Meike Niggemann, a Junior-Professor at RWTH Aachen University in Germany, has been selected as the 2013 ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable Distinguished Lecturer. The ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable recognizes a professor whose research is very highly regarded by the pharmaceutical industry. In addition to a monetary award, the Roundtable funds the winner’s travel during a lecture tour to member companies in the selected region; this year's region is the EU.
Ms. Niggemann graduated from the Technical University of Dortmund in 2003 and received her doctoral degree in synthetic organic chemistry from the same university in 2007 under the supervision of Professor Dr. B. Plietker. After finishing her dissertation, she joined Prof. Dr. S.F. Martin’s group at the University of Texas at Austin as a Postdoctoral fellow in fall 2007. After wrapping up her work in the Lone Star state, Ms. Niggemann returned to Europe to begin her independent career as a chemistry professor in 2009.
The RWTH Aachen University Niggemann group’s overall goal is to provide sustainable alternatives to transition metal catalyzed reactions. This lectureship will feature her research on the development of new organic reactions catalyzed by early main group metals. “It is surprising how very little is known about the catalytic activity of early main group metals such as lithium, potassium, magnesium and calcium,” says Niggemann. “This might be attributed to the fact that these elements have limited chemical properties, compared to the metals that are typically used as catalysts, rendering them at first sight less attractive. Nevertheless, increasing pressure regarding cost efficiency and environmental safety calls for a substitution of precious metals wherever it is possible.”
Calcium is the Niggemann’s group element of choice as it is non-toxic, biocompatible, abundant, and inexpensive. The newest Niggemann calcium based Lewis acidic catalyst was created specifically to generate highly reactive carbocationic intermediates. It is a highly reactive and potent catalyst, but distinct from previous efforts in that it is relatively tolerant of air and moisture. The high potency of the calcium catalyst allowed for the development of new carbocation rearrangements reactions that are similar to processes moderated by precious metals or enzymes. This is of interest to the pharmaceutical industry because it presents a powerful tool for the single-step generation of complex molecular architectures from simple starting materials that, until now, were only a domain of precious metal catalysis. She and her team were the first to successfully apply calcium salts as highly efficient Lewis acidic catalysts in organic syntheses.
“We are very excited to have Professor Niggemann as the ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable Distinguished Lecturer,” said Juan Colberg the Director of Technology and Innovation in the Pharmaceutical Sciences Division at Pfizer, and a Roundtable co-chair. “The use of metal catalyzed cross-coupling reactions is an indispensable tool for the synthetic organic chemist. Most of the available protocols use precious metals to catalyze these transformations. High cost, limited supplies, and human toxicity are just some of the drivers to develop more environmentally benign alternatives. The lack of proven, robust methods to perform these reactions using more benign and sustainable conditions makes Professor Niggemann’s research an important one as it aims to develop reaction protocols to perform these types of transformations without the need of precious metals. ”
Ms. Niggemann is scheduled to tour in spring 2014, presenting to eleven of the 15 Pharmaceutical Roundtable member companies. She will be discussing various applicable transformations and how her catalyst is more active than other Lewis acidic catalysts, which is exemplified by a broad substrate scope and mild reaction conditions. “We are very excited to present our first efforts of breaking ground in this new area of chemistry to industry,” says Niggemann, “as our biggest dream is to one day see large-scale implementation of our chemistry.”
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