Wednesday, September 2, 2009

NSF Center aims to simplify drug synthesis

Emory chemist Huw Davies has received $1.5 million from the National Science Foundation to establish an NSF Center for Chemical Innovation. Davies will lead a team of scientists from four universities to develop the center, focused on stereoselective C-H functionalization.

One of the aims of the researchers will be to speed up and simplify the synthesis of new classes of pharmaceuticals, to make their production affordable and scalable.

“We want to develop more efficient ways of cooking,” Davies explains.

Carbon-carbon (C-C) and carbon-hydrogen (C-H) bonds are generally the strongest bonds of an organic chemical, providing a stable framework for a molecule. For decades, the main strategy of organic chemistry was to leave these stable bonds alone, and focus on modifying more reactive bonds.

“C-H functionalization involves a paradigm shift,” Davies says. “We’re trying to modify the C-H bonds, while leaving alone the reactive groups. It can be tricky, but it has the possibility of giving you more flexibility for the type of structures you can access.”

The NSF Centers for Chemical Innovation program addresses major, long-term basic chemical research problems that have a high probability of both producing transformative research and leading to innovation.

Davies lab has done groundbreaking work in C-H functionalization, including developing methods of stereoselective methods, which control the three-dimensional shape of a molecule.

His lab focuses on streamlined synthesis methods for drug discovery and has garnered 10 patents, more than 180 peer-reviewed publications, ongoing funding from the National Institutes of Health and the NSF, and collaborations with scientists working on therapies for everything from cancer to drug addiction.

The American Chemical Society recently named Davies one of the inaugural class of ACS Fellows.

The team for phase I of the NSF Center in Chemical Innovation at Emory includes Simon Blakey, assistant professor of organic chemistry at Emory, and Jamal Musaev, director of Emory’s Cherry L. Emerson Center for Scientific Computation, in addition to chemists from Stanford, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Scripps Research Institute.

After three years, the center can apply to become a phase II center, and additional NSF funding of $20 million.

Take a video tour of the Davies lab.

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