A Cheaper, Better Way To Make Enantiomerically Pure Compounds 

Market opportunity

A pair of chemical compounds that are identical to each other in all physical and chemical properties but are mirror images of each other are called enantiomers.  A compound is enantiomerically pure if it contains only one type of enantiomer. Enantiomerically pure compounds are important because they are often used in the pharmaceutical and fine chemical industries.  Currently, the common processes for producing these compounds are expensive and time-consuming. In addition, they typically require expensive and toxic catalysts and reagents. 

A team from the NUS Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering has developed an alternative approach to producing enantiomerically pure compounds. This is done by synthesising them from low cost and readily-available raw materials. 

The Technology

This alternative approach has been made possible by the use of cascade biocatalysis, which are processes that exist naturally in the metabolic pathways in living cells.  NUS scientists have developed artificial cascade biocatalysis for the synthesis of a variety of chemical compounds. Using raw materials comprising of easily available alkenes and styrenes, they have synthesised enantiomerically pure compounds like chiral α‐hydroxy carboxylic acids, chiral vicinal diols, chiral 1,2‐amino alcohols and α‐amino acids.

Applications and Advantages

The NUS-developed cascade biocatalysis method can be applied to pharmaceutical and fine chemical manufacturing processes.  Aside from the high yields and low costs, the method is also easy to scale up and uses non-toxic components. All these attributes make this approach for producing enantiomercially pure compounds superior and more sustainable, compared to existing methods commonly used within the industry. Some 35 products can be synthesized with this cascade biocatalysis method. The list of products can be seen here.

NUS is now seeking partners to further develop this technology and bring it to market. 

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