Late-stage Functionalisation of Drug-like Scaffolds by Electrochemically- generated Free Radicals

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Chemistry


In medicinal chemistry, the ability to selectively functionalise drug molecules is very important. However, traditional synthetic routes are not appropriate for this purpose, as all functionalities are usually introduced at the start of the multistep synthesis, and the whole synthetic sequence must be repeated for each new compound. Developing methods that make it possible to introduce a functionality to the already-synthesised molecule (so-called late-stage functionalisation) has thus recently become an important research goal. Free radicals are usually very short-lived and many people assume that radical reactions have poor selectivity and are not very useful synthetically. However, this is not the case. Radical reactions are often quite selective, tolerant to a range of functional groups and proceed under mild conditions. Therefore, radical reactions are well suited for late-stage functionalisation, and there are many recent examples of their successful use for this purpose. The big disadvantage of radical reactions, however, is that they need initiators which are either highly toxic (e.g., transition metal ions) or dangerous (e.g., peroxides). The aim of this project is to develop an electrochemical method for generating organic radicals which can then be used for late-stage functionalisation of drug-like molecules. Electrochemistry is a very clean method for initiation of radical reactions which does not involve any other reagents. For instance, carboxylate anions can be reduced at the anode to form carboxyl radicals which promptly lose CO2 to yield alkyl radicals (Kolbe reaction_. In this project, the alkyl radicals thus formed will be used to functionalise a range of drug-like molecules. The reactions will be monitored by spectroelectrochemical techniques; the mechanistic information obtained will help us optimise reaction conditions and investigate the scope of the new reactions. In the later stages of the project, a series of different reactions will be explored, and the new approach will be applied to pharmaceutical targets.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509802/1 30/09/2016 30/03/2022
1792706 Studentship EP/N509802/1 30/09/2016 29/09/2019 Sophie Berrell
Description In this project, two new synthetic methods using electrochemistry were developed which will be applicable to the synthesis of molecules of direct interest to the pharmaceutical industry. In one part, the scope and limitations of an "old" reaction, Kolbe electrolysis, were fully explored - this demonstrated some key limitations of this approach which will be vital information for users of this methodology in the future. In the second part, a new synthetic electrochemistry transformation was developed which allowed the functionalisation of, for example, piperidine molecules which is a very common motif in drug molecules.
Exploitation Route Medicinal chemistry researchers in the pharmaceutical industry may find use for our methods.
Sectors Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology