Taxol Synthesis

I read with interest the article in the Hot Papers column on K.C. Nicolaou's paper titled "Total synthesis of taxol"

By | September 18, 1995

I read with interest the article in the Hot Papers column on K.C. Nicolaou's paper titled "Total synthesis of taxol" (The Scientist, May 29, 1995, page 14).

The account is very helpful in bringing readers' attention to one of the most impressive achievements of chemists in recent years. It is, however, misleading in two aspects. First, the article failed to point out the actual research team that accomplished the first total synthesis of taxol. Second, it didn't mention the fact that two research groups, working independently of each other, have achieved the first two syntheses of taxol at almost the same time. The legend to the picture reads: "K.C. Nicolaou's research group reported the first completely chemical synthesis of taxol." This gives readers an incorrect impression that Nicolaou's team was in first place in the heated race for the synthesis of taxol.

According to Chemical & Engineering News (Feb. 21, 1994, page 32), the official mouthpiece of the chemistry community, it is chemistry professor R.A. Holton and his coworkers at Florida State University, Tallahassee, who first achieved the total synthesis of taxol on Dec. 9, 1993. A few weeks later, Nicolaou's group finished their taxol synthesis, on Jan. 15, 1994. Nicolaou's paper describing their synthesis, however, did appear in Nature earlier than Holton's account of the Florida work.

In his conversation with The Scientist staff, Nicolaou claims that his article "was the first to report the total synthesis of taxol." Please note that being the first to report a piece of work is not necessarily the same as being the first to finish the work in the lab, and in this case the difference is obvious. Bearing in mind that Nicolaou's group joined the quest for synthetic taxol quite a few years later than Holton's team, I would not use the actual finish date as an accurate measure of efficiency.

As a synthetic chemist, I admire the elegance of Nicolaou's taxol synthesis and believe that it is fair and proper to say his team was among the two groups of chemists who first accomplished the total synthesis of taxol, the other being Holton's.

Tianhan Xue
Schwab & Lay Chemical Co.
5625 E. 20th St.
Tucson, Ariz. 85711

(The Scientist, Vol:9, #18, pg 13, September 18, 1995)


(The Scientist, Vol:9, #18, pg.1 , September 18, 1995)
(Copyright © The Scientist, Inc.)

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