Research Article

Nanomole-scale high-throughput chemistry for the synthesis of complex molecules

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Science  02 Jan 2015:
Vol. 347, Issue 6217, pp. 49-53
DOI: 10.1126/science.1259203

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Breaking through the milligram floor

When chemists synthesize compounds, the threshold for success is at least a milligram of product. This has been true for decades—even though biochemical assays have long since descended into microgram territory—and results in part from the constraints of characterization methods. Buitrago Santanilla et al. present an automated dosing and characterization protocol for optimizing chemical reaction conditions on the microgram scale. This allowed them to screen numerous base and ligand combinations for catalytic C-N bond-forming reactions between complex pairs of compounds, in short supply, that resisted standard coupling conditions.

Science, this issue p. 49

Abstract

At the forefront of new synthetic endeavors, such as drug discovery or natural product synthesis, large quantities of material are rarely available and timelines are tight. A miniaturized automation platform enabling high-throughput experimentation for synthetic route scouting to identify conditions for preparative reaction scale-up would be a transformative advance. Because automated, miniaturized chemistry is difficult to carry out in the presence of solids or volatile organic solvents, most of the synthetic “toolkit” cannot be readily miniaturized. Using palladium-catalyzed cross-coupling reactions as a test case, we developed automation-friendly reactions to run in dimethyl sulfoxide at room temperature. This advance enabled us to couple the robotics used in biotechnology with emerging mass spectrometry–based high-throughput analysis techniques. More than 1500 chemistry experiments were carried out in less than a day, using as little as 0.02 milligrams of material per reaction.

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