Chemistry and Biochemistry

A Chemical Breakthrough

Posted: Jan 10, 2013

Dr. Daniel Ess’s new chemical reaction has caused a national reaction among chemists.

Pharmaceutical companies don’t like to use metal catalysts to synthesize their drugs. So when Dr. Ess and a collaboration of professors discovered a way to do a needed reaction without metal, it gained national attention.

“The problem is even if you put a little bit of metal in your reaction, you’re going to spend enormous effort and time cleaning the metal up,” Dr. Ess explained. The FDA requires most drugs to be free of metal.

For decades, chemists have worked to construct aryl amine bonds without using metals, but to no avail. Dr. Ess, Brigham Young University Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and a group led by Dr. Laszlo Kurti at University of Texas Southwestern have recently published a paper that describes the invention of a new amination reagent that works without the assistance of any metals.

Their publication also provides key theoretical insights into why this reagent is so effective at conversion of aryl boronic acids into aryl amines.

“The key thing is that we found a new avenue that’s much more practical,” Dr. Ess said. The other avenues to get the same reaction involved either reagents that led to the expensive removal of metal or reagents that didn’t respond well with other chemicals.

Chemistry and Engineering News, a prestigious publication read nationwide by millions of chemists, picked up on the exciting news after the Kurti/Ess team and another independent team simultaneously published approaches to the metal-free synthesis of aryl amines.

“Pharmaceutical companies would always opt to use metal-free conditions if that’s available,” Dr. Ess said. “Until now, that option just was not available to them.”

By Curtis Penfold, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences