Professor Wei Zhang, director of the Center for Green Chemistry at UMass Boston, is the recipient of the biennial Fluorous Technology Award at the sixth International Symposium on Fluorous Technologies in Como, Italy. He was recognized by his peers for his achievement in the new and cutting-edge field of fluorous chemistry. Previous winners of this award include the original scientists who discovered fluorous technology two decades ago. Zhang is only the ninth scientist to receive this award.
“Twenty years ago, this field did not exist,” Zhang said. “The first paper on the topic of fluorous technology was published in 1995.”
Zhang is one of the first scientists to apply fluorous technology in the process of making compound libraries, an important step in the development of new drugs.
When scientists are creating new drug candidates, they begin by making a library of thousands of molecules of one type, each with a slight variation in structure. Any one of these variations might prove to be successful in targeting a disease, but not toxic to the patient.
Scientists use a technique called “high throughput synthesis” to make and isolate a library of molecules. While there are now well-established methods for quickly producing the library, scientists typically purify the molecules one at a time. That process is time-consuming for scientists, and creates a bottleneck in the process of drug discovery.
“Reactions aren’t always clean,” Zhang said. “After a reaction, you have a mixture of compounds. You have to isolate the product at a high level of purity for biological testing.”
This is where fluorous technology is helpful to scientists. It simplifies the purification process, because fluorous compounds don’t mix well with water and organic solvents. It is a faster and more streamlined process for high throughput synthesis.
Through the collaboration with Professor James Bradner’s lab at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School, Zhang’s lab has successfully applied fluorous technology in the discovery of a lead compound for a new drug target.
Zhang has brought his work on fluorous technology together with his expertise in green chemistry. The traditional purification process involves a large amount of chemical waste. For example, to synthesize 10 mg of a compound, a scientist might use 5 mL of solvent for the reaction, but may need 500 mL of solvent for purification. Scientists can perform the same process with a much smaller amount of solvent using fluorous technology. Fluorous separation material can be recycled, and used again in another purification process.
Receiving fluorous technology award is an important recognition of Zhang’s contribution to the fields of medicinal chemistry and green chemistry.
According to Zong-Guo Xia, vice provost for research and strategic initiatives, “This prestigious award recognizes Professor Zhang’s extraordinary contributions to the field of fluorous chemistry and reaffirms the status of UMass Boston as a center of excellence in education and research in the field of green chemistry.”