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New Chemistry Approach Promises Less Expensive Drugs

n cases where the catalyst can create only the helpful enantiomer -- a process called asymmetric catalysis -- they are often expensive, capricious and difficult to work with.

"That is one reason why for several years our lab has been looking for catalysts based on organic molecules rather than metals," MacMillan said. "Organic catalysts are generally inexpensive, robust to water and air and environmentally friendly. Organic catalysts, it turns out, are proving more capable than most people expected."

Since the year 2000, MacMillan's work has enabled the discovery of a new family of organic catalysts, which can be used to produce only beneficial enantiomers. These catalysts have proven desirable because they are based on organic substances, and are therefore not harmful either to patients or to the environment. But his team's latest paper does more than offer chemists a new set of organic catalysts with which to work.

"This discovery does not yield merely more organic catalysts, but makes a whole new type of chemical reactions available to us," MacMillan said. "It's almost like a new airport hub that allows you to extend the range of your air travel. You can reach destinations that were not open to you before."

Gregory Fu of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said that these destinations would likely prove important to the pharmaceutical industry.

"This work adds an important new dimension to efforts to achieve asymmetric catalysis," said Fu, a professor of chemistry. "It will no doubt have a substantial impact on the discovery of new bioactive compounds for the benefit of society."

MacMillan said he hopes the findings would eventually make drugs both more useful and widely available.

"The big payoff here is that the discovery will allow new chemical reactions to be developed that are powerful yet unprecedented in the field of chemistry," MacMillan said. "They will allow access to sing
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