Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute have created a new method for synthesizing “amines” a class of organic compounds prominent in drugs and other modern products. Using new method valuable exotic compounds can be created in a very inexpensive process. New reaction is already being called modern alchemy and it is hard to overestimate its meaning for modern science.
Amines are related to relatively simple molecule ammonia (NH3), but often are much more complex. This new method is very useful for synthesizing such complex amines that would be highly valuable in pharmaceuticals, but are impractical or even impossible to make with currently known methods. However, it is strikingly simple and inexpensive method. All it requires is mixing of two abundant compounds, a nitroarene and an olefin, with an iron catalyst. Of course, there is more to this process, even though it is still advanced and extremely simple compared to currently used methods.
Such way of synthesizing amines has never been seen before. Phil S. Baran, chemist from The Scripps Research Institute who led the study, jokingly described this method as “pretty darn useful” and said that this method is unique because “it’s also being immediately applied by industry”. Method is already being described as modern alchemy, even though the final product often is even more valuable. Phil S. Baran said “It’s as if we’re taking dirt, and then adding a bit of rust, and putting it all in a blender and ending up with gold — except that the amines we can make with this new method are often worth much more than their weight in gold.”
Amines are very useful for making drugs. However, amines with particularly desirable properties — such as a resistance to breakdown by enzymes in the body — are hard to make using current standard methods. However, the new amine synthesis utilizes humble main ingredients – nitroarenes and olefins. Both of them are cheap feedstock chemicals that are already common in most of labs. When they are merged together in this unique way they produce compounds that are extremely difficult to make using conventional processes.
Scientists were exploring new reaction of pairings of different nitroarenes and olefins and found that the reaction worked smoothly under unusually mild conditions. It also generated a great variety of complex amine-containing compounds. Scientists already synthesized more than 100 different amines, including valuable drug compounds in much more simple way than current methods could offer.
How valuable is this method? It offers very broad range of possibilities. It is said that it is a highly practical way of accessing currently unexplored chemical field of amines. It is also very inexpensive and simple process – just in two months scientists used it for dozens of decagram-scale reactions in the lab. Finally, product this reaction produces is highly valuable as it is used in a broad variety of drugs. That is why it is much more than just modern alchemy – it does not make people rich, but enriches scientists with possibilities to explore unexplored field and offer new solutions for health sciences.