Chemistry Nobel Prizes “Clicks” That Simplified Drug Production

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced this Wednesday (5) the winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry. St. Carolyn Bertozzi, an American from Stanford University; Morten Meldal, Dane from the University of Copenhagen; and the American K. Barry Sharpless, from the Scripps Research Institute in California — who now has two Nobel medals in the field. The laureates are credited with “not overcomplicating things,” said Johan Åqvist, head of the chemistry committee for the annual award. Together, they turned the synthesis of complex biomolecules, such as drugs, into something almost as easy as putting together a puzzle game.

Sharpless pioneered the field, for which he coined the name “chemistry click” in the year 2000. It is a sub-area of ​​synthetic chemistry, that is, the chemistry dedicated to creating substances and discovering the laboratory recipe for them. Click chemistry is a simplified type of synthetic chemistry that takes smaller molecules and discovers fast reactions that put them together (hence the name clique), with few unwanted products and simple execution. There’s curated click-through work to drive new discoveries.

Meldal and Sharpless independently presented one of the most important reactions for this purpose, which uses copper as a catalyst — a catalyst is a substance that it is not changed by a reaction, but it helps to initiate it or make it faster. This click reaction is now routinely used in drug synthesis and DNA sequencing.

Carolyn Bertozzi’s part was to introduce glycans, important but difficult to isolate molecules that exist in cell surface. She developed click reactions that happen inside living organisms. They were called “bio-orthogonal reactions”, as they do not interfere with the normal functioning of the organism.

Chemists compete for the discovery of the simplest possible ways to produce some molecule. Much admired are the professionals who simplified, for example, the steps needed to produce strychnine, a toxic substance used as a pesticide isolated from 1818 a plant used in traditional medicine in China and South Asia. A synthesis protocol of 1954 is considered a classic in the field. Just as computers were miniaturized at that time, the reactions for the production of organic substances underwent a revolution of simplification, with click chemistry being a large part of it.

In addition to the production of medicines, click chemistry bio-orthogonal reactions are present in the discovery of more targeted chemotherapy treatments for each type of cancer that are now in clinical trials. There is also an economic importance: these surveys can cheapen more complicated processes used before, and are done in a way that brings industry and academia closer, aligning their interests.

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