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A Scientific Milestone

by Matthew Toussant
September 14, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 37

This guest editorial is by Matthew Toussant, senior vice president of editorial operations for CAS, who is responsible for the editorial production of CAS databases, principally CA and the CAS Registry.

On Sept. 7, CAS scientists recorded the 50-millionth chemical substance into the CAS Registry. It received a unique identifier, the CAS Registry Number (CAS RN), and was associated with its authoritative source, in this case a World Intellectual Property Organization application, WO2009/097695, published on Aug. 13, 2009. The substance comes from the examples section of a 199-page patent document and is (5Z)-5-[(5-fluoro-2-hydroxyphenyl)methylene]-2-(4-methyl-1-piperazinyl)-4(5H)-thiazolone, CAS RN 1181081-51-5.

The 50 million publicly disclosed substances represent a consequential milestone. The CAS Registry has been continuously operated for the purposes of uniquely identifying chemical substances since its inception, now more than 40 years ago. Surprisingly, it took CAS only nine months to register the last 10 million substances. In those nine months, CAS has registered at least 25 unique substances per minute.

It took 33 years for CAS to encounter the first 10 million substances in the published literature. As CAS forecast two years ago, the pace of discovery in chemistry, especially of small molecules, is increasing. And so, although in 2008 CAS registered a then-record total of 8.5 million substances, that record has already been shattered.

What other trends are evident on closer inspection of the registry? Although CAS scientists review all forms of publications, we see that more than 60% of the new substances entering the CAS Registry are sourced from patents issued by a major patent office. Another significant percentage comes from commercial chemical catalogs. For some years, we have referred to this phenomenon as "the monetization of chemistry" because chemical knowledge embedded in the intellectual property of a public patent document has overtaken chemical knowledge in the form of more traditional published and shared media, such as scientific articles.

How long will this trend of increasing protection of chemical knowledge persist? No one can predict; but for now the work of analyzing complex patents continues to challenge and bring out the best in the information analysis techniques and scientific expertise of CAS scientists and information technologists.

The CAS Registry is more than a simple list or compendium. It is to the chemist a lively and vast mosaic of chemical information that provides not only chemical names and vital literature references but ancillary information such as experimental and predicted property data, commercial availability, preparation details, spectra, and regulatory information from international sources.

Along with other key CAS databases, the CAS Registry can be an almost endless source of insight and a prod to creativity. The registry has been called "the gold standard" of substance collections, and all of us at CAS, and our close partners around the world, are proud to have earned that recognition.

The CAS Registry is an embodiment of our mission as a division of ACS. That mission is to provide chemists and allied scientists with the world's best digital environment to search, retrieve, analyze, and link chemical information. At CAS, we aim to be comprehensive, and yet we apply careful standards before adding substances to the registry. We seek to be timely, and yet we will not yield on quality standards and will commit to corrections when errors are found.

The CAS Registry reaches back more than 100 years and is adding new information at a prodigious rate. It is both the life's work of generations of CAS chemists and the beneficiary of the efforts of thousands of abstractors and indexers from dozens of countries. Many contributed vital work to CAS's information resources before the digital age and the conception of the registry in the 1960s. CAS databases are an astonishing resource, and as we mark the milestone of 50 million substances, we look back in appreciation at this body of work from which we and world science benefit today.

Matthew Toussant

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.


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