Pharmaceutical Roundtable Grants $300,000 to Five Chemistry Professors Over Past Year

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Professors often apply for grants to pursue green chemistry research that could lead to significant environmental benefits and have immediate application within the pharmaceutical industry. The ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable has awarded five of such grants in the past year, propelling green chemistry forward.

Two of the grant recipients, Princeton Professor Paul Chirik, Ph.D., who received $100,000, and Professor Daniel Weix, Ph.D., of Rochester University, who received $50,000, are both researching non-precious metal catalysis.

Professor Weix said, “The opportunity to engage with industrial researchers brings an infusion of new problems for us to tackle and new perspectives for solving old challenges in our work,” and according to Chirik, “The benefits of academic-industry collaboration are unparalleled and truly synergistic.” He says exposure to real industrial problems from the start is one of the most important benefits to academics and useful in establishing the forefront of the chemistry. Universities offer access to the best, and brightest young minds in the field, and can provide industry with a unique perspective to long-standing problems.

Catalysis is an important method in chemistry. It increases reaction rates and reduces the energy required for a reaction to take place. However, many catalytic reactions currently use precious metals such as platinum which are expensive, of limited supply, and pose certain human toxicity concerns. “Preparing catalysts from earth-abundant elements such as iron offers a possibility to resolve these issues,” Chirik says. “More importantly, iron chemistry by virtue of its unique electronic structures often offers new chemistry that was previously unknown or unavailable with established precious metal technology.”

Weix is working on developing catalysts from the more common metal, nickel. Synthesis methods, he says, usually rely upon difficult to handle starting materials and solvents that are not environmentally friendly, says Weix, “Our work, when realized, will result in reactions that avoid both of these challenges.”

“The proposed work by Chirik and Weix provides an exciting opportunity to address these issues by better understanding the mechanism of key catalytic coupling reactions when using non-precious metals for carbon-carbon and carbon-nitrogen bond formation among others,” says Juan Colberg, Ph.D., ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable co-chair and senior director at Pfizer.

“The ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable is delighted to also support research partners Professor Matthias Beller, Ph.D., of Leibniz Institute for Catalysis at the University of Rostock in Germany and Professor Elisabetta Alberico, Ph.D., of the Institute of Biomolecular Chemistry in Italy who were granted $50,000 to research greener reduction of amides, and Professor Neal Mankad, Ph,D., of the University of Illinois, who was awarded $100,000 for his research on iron catalysis.

Mankad stated, “As an academic scientist who does research of a fundamental nature almost exclusively, it is invaluable to me to direct those efforts toward areas of importance to industry.” “Concerns associated with this type of technology in the pharmaceutical community have increased due to high cost, fluctuating global supply, human toxicity and limited natural abundance of precious metals,” stated Colberg in regards to Mankads research.

Discovering processes that are less wasteful and safer are also of special interest to the pharmaceutical industry. For instance, amide reduction is one of several key chemical transformations used to synthesize pharmaceuticals that have many drawbacks. These include poor efficiency, the generation of large quantities of waste and hazardous laboratory conditions. To improve these conditions, Bellar and Alberico will focus on a cost-effective, highly atom-economical procedure where water is the only by-product.

Beller and Alberico’s efforts and will continue to support transformative science that has the potential to deliver a future of sustainability in the pharmaceutical industry,” said John Tucker, ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable co-chair and senior scientist at Amgen. 

Since 2005, the ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable has given $1.7 million dollars in research grants to advance the sustainability profile of pharmaceutical processes using green chemistry techniques. The roundtable brings global industry leaders together to catalyze the beneficial implementation of green chemistry and engineering. Current members include: Amgen, AstraZeneca, Boehringer-Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Bristol-Myers Squibb, Cubist Pharmaceuticals, Codexis, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd., Eli Lilly and Company, F. Hoffman-La Roche Ltd., GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co., Inc., Novartis, Pfizer Inc., Sanofi and ACS GCI.

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