Dr. Merrifield introduced a new concept for the total synthesis of complicated molecules such as polypeptides, proteins, hormones and enzymes. His idea was to keep, during synthesis, the peptide chain always attached to a solid—as opposed to previous conventional methods, in which all reactants were in solution.
From this concept the new technique known as "solid-phase peptide synthesis" emerged. This work, which is a development of potentially wide therapeutic value, represents a significant advance in medical research, because it permits the numerous chemical operations involved in each step of the synthesis of a complicated molecule to be programmed and carried out automatically. It thus makes many of these important substances more rapidly available for further study.
After designing and constructing an automatic apparatus for this purpose, Dr. Merrifield and his colleagues proved its effectiveness by synthesizing the hormones bradykinin, angiotensin, insulin, and more recently, the enzyme ribonuclease.
When Dr. Merrifield began to develop his basic idea in 1959, relatively few complex polypeptides had yet been produced in the laboratory. His technique opened the door for the rapid synthesis of many new peptides and proteins with composition modified at will. Dr. Merrifield's method, which is now being widely used in many laboratories, has thus made it possible to learn more about the significance of the structure of a protein for its biological function.
For his bold and original new concept, and for developing a needed new method that permits the automated synthesis of biologically and therapeutically valuable substances, Dr. Bruce Merrifield is given the 1969 Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research.