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UD prof helps discover new chemical method important to drug design, agrichemicals

University of Delaware scientist Donald Watson is part of a research team that has discovered an easier method for incorporating fluorine into organic molecules, giving chemists an important new tool in developing materials ranging from new medicines to agricultural chemicals.

The research, which is reported in the June 25 edition of Science, was led by Stephen Buchwald, the Camille Dreyfus Professor of Chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Watson worked in Buchwald's lab at MIT as a postdoctoral research associate prior to joining the UD Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry as an assistant professor this past September.

About 25 percent of pharmaceuticals contain fluorine, according to Watson, but it's difficult to incorporate the element into drug molecules. Numerous researchers have been working to develop general methods to introduce fluorine atoms into organic molecules under mild reaction conditions.

"The introduction of fluorine atoms into a pharmaceutical compound can have pronounced effects," Watson notes. "They can modulate the uptake of the drug and stabilize it against metabolism by the body, keeping it in a person's system longer and making it more effective."

The chemical method discovered by the research team uses a soluble palladium (a precious metal) catalyst to replace a chlorine atom in an aromatic molecule with a trifluoromethyl (CF3) group, which contains one carbon and three fluorine atoms. The process is highly general and occurs under mild conditions, and may become even more economical in the future as less expensive reagents are identified, Watson says.

Watson's role in the research effort was in early stage development. He dissected the complex chemical process into manageable pieces, isolating the first compounds critical to the reaction and demonstrating their effectiveness.

This is the second article in this research field that the team has pub

Contact: Tracey Bryant
University of Delaware

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