"Semisynthesis" or partial chemical synthesis is a type of
chemical synthesisthat uses compounds isolated from natural sources (e.g. plantmaterial or bacterial or cell cultures) as starting materials. These natural biomolecules are usually large and complex molecules. This is opposed to a total synthesiswhere large molecules are synthesized from a stepwise combination of small and cheap (petrochemical) building blocks.
Semisynthesis is usually used when the precursor molecule is too structurally complex, too costly or too inefficient to be produced by
total synthesis. It is also possible that the semisynthetic derivative outperforms the original biomolecule itself with respect to potency, stability or safety.
Drugs derived from natural sources are usually produced by harvesting the natural source or through semisynthetic methods: one example is the semisynthesis of
LSDfrom ergotamine, which is isolated from ergot funguscultures. The commercial production of paclitaxelis also based on semisynthesis (see: paclitaxel total synthesis).
The antimalarial drug
artemether(a component of Coartem) is a semisynthetic derived from naturally occurring artemisinin. The latter is unstable due to the presence of a lactonegroup and therefore this group is replaced by an acetalthrough organic reductionwith potassium borohydride and methoxylation ["An Improved Manufacturing Process for the Antimalaria Drug Coartem. Part I"Matthias Boehm, Peter C. Fuenfschilling, Matthias Krieger, Ernst Kuesters, and Fritz Struber Org. Process Res. Dev.; 2007; 11(3) pp 336 - 340; (Article) DOI|10.1021/op0602425 ] :
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