Headaches form over a possible new form of aspirin

New scientific insights into the packaging of molecules in solids may tempt jokesters to add a second line to that old medical axiom, “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.” Insiders familiar with an unfolding controversy about aspirin — more than 100 billion tablets of which are produced worldwide each year — might quip, “Well, doctor, should I take Form I or Form II?”

An article scheduled for the Jan.1 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, the ACS’ weekly newsmagazine, discusses the controversy that has arisen since 2006, when scientists isolated, described and filed a patent for a putative new form of aspirin. Written by C&EN senior editor Ivan Amato, the article describes subtle differences in the crystal, or internal, structures of familiar acetylsalicylic acid and the newly described Form II of aspirin.

The article explains that the discovery of Form II may not have any practical implications for people who take aspirin. However, uncertainties about Form II do showcase surprising knowledge gaps in organic chemists’ understanding of the solid state of matter, Amato writes. Those gaps are apparent at a time when pharmaceutical companies are recognizing that minuscule differences in the crystal structures of drugs can have big influences on how drugs work in patients.

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