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New Chemistry Approach Promises Less Expensive Drugs

With a newly discovered method of assembling organic molecules, a team of Princeton University chemists may have found a way to sidestep many of the expensive// and hazardous barriers that stand in the way of drug development.

The new approach allows scientists to synthesize molecules without employing toxic catalysts, and it also does not generate alternate versions of drug molecules that can damage the body, two perennial issues that plague the manufacturing process. David MacMillan, one of the researchers on the team, said the discovery is important not only for its industrial applications, but also because of the new research possibilities it opens up.

"This is a new type of chemistry that could expand the way people think about making biologically active molecules," said MacMillan, who holds Princeton's A. Barton Hepburn Chair of Chemistry and directs the chemistry department's Merck Center for Catalysis. "We've found more than a new chemical reaction. It's a common mode of molecule activation that allows a whole group of reactions to take place."

Broadly stated, the discovery will open up new possibilities for working with ketones and aldehydes, two chemical groups that are found on a large percentage of the substances in which organic chemists are interested. "They form a big region of the reaction landscape," MacMillan said.

The paper, which MacMillan cowrote with first author Teresa Beeson, Anthony Mastracchio, Jun-Bae Hong and Kate Ashton, all members of his research group, appears in the March 29 issue of the journal Science. John Schwab, a chemist at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), applauded the work for the new possibilities it could provide.

"One sometimes hears that organic chemistry is a mature field, but MacMillan's work shows that there still are rich veins waiting to be mined," said Schwab, also a program director at the NIH's National Institute of General Medical Sciences, which
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