Research by Hong Kong scientists may bring safer and more affordable chiral medicine

Research by Hong Kong scientists may bring safer and more affordable chiral medicine

to recent press
, a research team from the Hong Kong University of Science and
Technology (HKUST) has discovered a new way to produce chiral molecules in a more
efficient and eco-friendly way.

Currently, over half of the approved drugs in use in the
world are chiral, which treats a wide range of conditions including
cardiovascular, respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases.  

Last year,
more than two thirds of the newly developing drugs are made of chiral
molecules. Many chiral drugs are top sellers, including high-cholesterol
medicine Lipitor, and antibiotic Amoxicillin. 

The market for chiral drugs is a fast growing one, with the
market size jumping nearly four folds to around US$800 billion over the past
decade and still growing.

However, the production of chiral drugs is difficult and
costly as the production process is complicated and requires rare and expensive
raw materials in general.

A team
led by Prof Jianwei Sun, Associate Professor of the HKUST Department of Chemistry,
discovered useful methods that could result in a more efficient and affordable
production of the drugs.

molecules contain subunits which are like twin brothers, they have extremely
similar, mirror-like architecture but may exhibit distinct traits in our body. These
‘twin components’ are particularly hard to separate, and it is costly to get
just the useful part out of the two, Chiral allenes represents an example of
this type which were made by the very expensive chiral raw materials,” said
Prof Sun.

However, Prof Sun’s team has discovered that chiral allenes
can be produced through organic catalysis using racemic propargylic alcohols,
which is cheap and available. The catalyst is also recyclable and reusable
without having to create metal wastes.

to Prof Sun, the new method is not only more economical and friendly to the
environment, such green catalysis could also have profound impact in health
care as drug companies may be able to create and develop chiral drugs in a
cheaper and more sustainable way.

The findings were recently published in Nature Communications.