cause a decrease in the reaction rate of an enzyme-catalyzed reaction by binding to a specific portion of an enzyme and thus slowing or preventing a reaction from occurring. Irreversible inhibitors are therefore the equivalent of poisons in heterogeneous catalysis. One of the oldest and most widely used commercial enzyme inhibitors is aspirin, which selectively inhibits one of the enzymes involved in the synthesis of molecules that trigger inflammation. The design and synthesis of related molecules that are more effective, more selective, and less toxic than aspirin are important objectives of biomedical research.
Aspirin, one of the first drugs to come into common usage, is still mostly the widely used in the world - approximately 35,000 metric tonnes are produced and consumed annually, enough to make over 100 billion standard aspirin tablets every year.
Because enzymes can increase reaction rates by enormous factors (up to 1017 times the uncatalyzed rate) and tend to be very specific, typically producing only a single product in quantitative yield, they are the focus of active research. At the same time, enzymes are usually expensive to obtain, they often cease functioning at temperatures greater than 37°C, have limited stability in solution, and have such high specificity that they are confined to turning one particular set of reactants into one particular product. This means that separate processes using different enzymes must be developed for chemically similar reactions, which is time-consuming and expensive. Thus far, enzymes have found only limited industrial applications, although they are used as ingredients in laundry detergents, contact lens cleaners, and meat tenderizers. The enzymes in these applications tend to be , which are able to cleave the amide bonds that hold amino acids together in proteins. Meat tenderizers, for example, contain a protease called papain, which is isolated from papaya juice. It cleaves some of the long, fibrous protein molecules that make inexpensive cuts of beef tough, producing a piece of meat that is more tender. Some insects, like the bombadier beetle, carry an enzyme capable of catalyzing the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide to water ().