September 25, 2015

WPI lab to use NIH grant to study drug design step

When it comes to making medicines, a Worcester Polytechnic Institute researcher is asking, "Can we do it better?"

The National Institutes of Health has awarded the assistant professor and her team a $346,000 grant for a three-year project to find out. The research could advance a new chemical process for more effective drug development and manufacturing, WPI said in a statement Wednesday.

Marion Emmert, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, will lead the research. It will explore early-stage technology developed in her lab that could yield a more efficient and predictable method of bonding a vital class of structures called aromatic and benzylic amines to a drug molecule. These amines are often used in pharmaceuticals to help a drug interact with the target locations in the body.

"Seven of the top 10 pharmaceuticals in use today have these substructures, because they are so effective at creating a biologically active compound," Emmert said in the statement. "The current processes used to add these groups are indirect and not very efficient. So we asked ourselves, can we do it better?"

Emmert's approach uses novel reagents and metal catalysts to create a process that can attach amines directly to the drug molecule, in the right place, every time, the statement said. Over the next three years, with support from the NIH, Emmert's team will continue to study the new catalytic processes, and will also use them to synthesize Asacol, a common drug now in use for ulcerative colitis, in hopes of significantly shortening its production.

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