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Stereochemistry and why it Matters for Novel Product Development

Written by Robert Hammell

Stereochemistry is essentially 3D chemistry. Meaning, the way atoms are arranged in any particular molecular structure can affect the development and ultimately the final result of any novel product.

Louis Pasteur, though more famous for his sterilization technique, is often credited as the father of stereochemistry. This was due to his discovery of molecular chirality, which means that even though molecular compounds can be mirror images of each other, they can have very different effects. If this sounds familiar, it was made famous in a Breaking Bad episode when the character Walter White explained the thalidomide tragedy, one of the most famous molecular chirality disasters. Understanding how molecular structures can be rearranged allows chemists a whole range of possibilities when developing new products in a variety of fields.


Chirality in Pharmaceuticals

The Pharmaceutical industry relies heavily on stereochemistry to develop novel products. Currently, 56 percent of drugs available on the market are chiral products, but as many as 88 percent combine two enantiomers (molecular mirror images). This means that over half of the drugs available rely on stereochemistry, or reworking of the original chemical compound. For some manufacturers, this can lead to the development of generic drugs, which saw a rise from 19 percent market share to 78 percent between the years 1984-2013.

Generic drugs allow for cheaper manufacturing and may attract new customers with lower costs. For others, it may mean the elimination of side effects associated with their products. This may also increase their customer base through higher safety standards. While this may be a positive benefit, new side effects also have the potential to develop new products entirely. [3][4]

A famous example being the drug Sildenafil, a Pfizer product originally designed to treat cardiovascular complications. Once it went into testing, Sildenafil found to have a very peculiar side effect, and it was rebranded as the drug it is commonly referred to as today: Viagra.


Stereochemistry in Other Fields

Stereochemistry has a nearly limitless range that can be applied incalculably to other industries as well. In agriculture, this leads to the development of petrochemicals, fertilizers, and pesticides. Newly developed products allow farmers to produce higher yields with higher efficiencies. Many food products also rely on stereochemistry to develop more flavor, aroma, storage potential, and nutritional value.[5][6]

While many people may be a bit squeamish about the idea of chemically altered food, the benefits outweigh the costs in a variety of ways. Stereochemistry is even being used to develop hydrophobic materials. This could be applied to everything from clothing to vehicles and technological manufacturing to protect against wear and tear from moisture damage. [7]


Downsides to Stereochemistry

The most famous example of stereochemistry going wrong remains the thalidomide tragedy. Overall, this event served as a lesson in chirality, and now it is essential to the development of all sorts of novel products. As long as scientists stick to strict testing procedures and practices, risks can be minimized while rewards can multiply endlessly.



1- Gal, J., 2019. Louis Pasteur, Chemical Linguist: Founding the Language of Stereochemistry. Helvetica, [online] 102(8). Available at: <> [Accessed 23 April 2022].

2- Nguyen, L., He, H. and Pham-Huy, C., 2006. Chiral Drugs: An Overview. International Journal of Biomdedical Science, [online] 2(2), pp.85-100. Available at: <,enantiomers%20(3%2D5).> [Accessed 23 April 2022].

3- Pierini, D. and Vogel Anderson, K., 2013. How Generic Drugs are Made. US Pharmacist, [online] 38(6), pp.26-31. Available at: <> [Accessed 23 April 2022].

4- Hong Kong Baptist University. “Scientists eliminate drug side effects by manipulating molecular chirality.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 May 2020. <>.

5- Jeschke P. Current status of chirality in agrochemicals. Pest Manag Sci. 2018 Nov;74(11):2389-2404. doi: 10.1002/ps.5052. Epub 2018 Jun 7. PMID: 29704299.

6- Srkalova, S., Kalikova, K. and Tesarova, E., 2008. The presence and imporatnce of enantiomers in food. Chemicke Listy, [online] 102(7), pp.480-486. Available at: <> [Accessed 23 April 2022].

7- Tiwari, O., Ganesh, K. and Gazit, E., 2022. Effect of Stereochemistry and Hydrophobicity on the Self‐Assembly of Phe‐Phe‐Nucleoside Conjugates. Macromolecular Chemistry and Physics, p.2200011.

About the author

Robert Hammell