Chemical design made easier

Chemical design made easier

8:59 AM, 27th November 2015
Chemical design made easier
Catalysts designed by Laszlo Kurti and his team promise to speed the process of making novel chemicals, including drugs.

HOUSTON, US: Rice University scientists using an efficient metal-free process have synthesized dozens of small-molecule catalysts, tools that promise to speed the making of novel chemicals, including drugs.

Laszlo Kurti, a synthetic chemist and an associate professor of chemistry at Rice University, made elusive chiral biaryl compounds in a single-flask process that does not require the use of transition metals.

These biaryls are called organcatalysts because they catalyze chemical reactions without metal ions. They eliminate the need for transition metals and simplify chemical processes to synthesize new molecules. Transition metals are conductive metals that include titanium, iron, nickel, silver, copper, palladium and gold and are commonly used in catalysis.

This research is detailed in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

Kurti’s research uses biaryls as catalysts to develop novel single-enantiomer compounds.

Enantiomers are asymmetrical molecules found among organic compounds. Like one’s hands, their structures are mirror images that cannot be superimposed on each other. Significantly, these twins can have radically different effects – one beneficial, one not — as they interact with enzymes, proteins, receptors and even other chiral catalysts. Pharmaceutical companies understandably want to make drugs that contain only the helpful enantiomer.

Currently, single-enantiomer compounds are painstakingly synthesized as building blocks for drugs, agricultural products and functional materials.

“That’s the basis of what we do: develop new methods,” Kurti said. “Part of my program is coming up with new catalyst structures. When we were looking at the various ways to put such compounds together, we stumbled upon this very interesting reaction.”

The lab combined readily available compounds, including quinone monoacetal and naphthol, to make functionalized biaryls. “This is a major advance,” he said. “Using these building blocks, we made 41 different chiral biaryl compounds in a relatively short time.

He said the biaryls “open up an entire world of new chemical space,” as they lower the barrier to inventing and making new chemical compounds. “The implications are huge; this will certainly find its way into drug discovery, making agrochemicals and many other fine chemicals.”

Co-authors of the paper are postdoctoral researcher Hongyin Gao and graduate student Craig Keene of Rice; Qing-Long Xu, a former postdoctoral researcher in the Kurti group and a professor of chemistry at China Pharmaceutical University; Muhammed Yousufuddin, a lecturer of chemistry at the University of North Texas at Dallas; and Daniel Ess, a professor of chemistry at Brigham Young University.

© Rice University News

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