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Lighting up chemical reactions for sustainable drug production

Friday, 05 November 2021

Researchers have discovered a new approach for using visible-light to structurally modify bioactive molecules in chemical reactions, providing a possible sustainable alternative to traditional methods that could be used in the design and production of new medicines.

Scientists from the University of Nottingham’s School of Chemistry, based at the GSK Carbon Neutral Laboratory are exploring the development of new sustainable ways to make chemicals by exploiting the green and inexhaustible energy of visible-light, as an alternative to traditional chemical methodologies requiring the use of toxic reagents and heavy metals. Their latest research ‘Visible Light-driven conjunctive olefination’ has been published today in Nature Chemistry.

The invention of novel drugs and agrochemicals often involves investigation of several structural analogues to refine their bioactivity or other key chemical properties. Chemists often access these analogues through chemical modification of complex bioactive molecules, a process defined as “late-stage functionalisation”. However, only a fraction of the possible analogues is accessible through traditional chemical methods, which often use toxic or expensive reagents and catalysts. Many catalysts rely on using heavy metals which are well-known environmental pollutants due to their toxicity, persistence in the environment, and bioaccumulative nature.

Late-stage functionalisation is an important tool for drug design. This research offers a new approach that is very modular, practical and sustainable. This new approach will significantly expand the structures available to scientists and has the potential for extensive application in the design and production of new drugs.

Dr Mattia Silvi led the research and said: “We have now discovered a fundamentally new approach to structurally modify bioactive molecules handling them as practically as if they were Lego building blocks. Our approach exploits the sustainable energy of visible light, avoids the use of heavy metals and has general applicability, thereby opening access to exceptional room for the design of new derivatives. The results of our study could significantly impact the way scientists design new analogues of complex bioactive molecules, providing a new a new powerful tool for the development of the medicines of tomorrow.”

This research also further demonstrates the exceptional potential of the use of visible-light energy in organic synthesis, that has impressively grown in the last decade, and is expected to continue to grow in the future, thereby opening new avenues for sustainable chemistry
Dr Mattia Silvi

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More information is available from Dr Mattia Silvi on Mattia.Silvi@nottingham.ac.uk (research group website: https://silviresearch.com)

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The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. Ranked 103rd out of more than 1,000 institutions globally and 18th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings 2022, the University’s state-of-the-art facilities and inclusive and disability sport provision is reflected in its crowning as The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021 Sports University of the Year. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally. Alongside Nottingham Trent University, we lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, a pioneering collaboration which brings together the combined strength and civic missions of Nottingham’s two world-class universities and is working with local communities and partners to aid recovery and renewal following the COVID-19 pandemic.

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