Chemists use electrochemistry to amp up drug manufacturing

Give your medicine a jolt. By using electrochemistry, future pharmaceuticals - including many of the top prescribed medications in the United States - soon may be easily scaled up to be manufactured in a more sustainable way. Currently, making pharmaceuticals involves creating complex organic molecules that require several chemical steps and intense energy. The process also spawns copious amounts of environmentally harmful - and usually toxic - waste.

At the heart of many popular pharmaceuticals are vicinal diamines, which contain carbon-nitrogen chemical bonds, a bioactive foundation for the medicine. According to Song Lin, assistant professor of chemistry, many widely consumed therapeutic agents have these diamines, including prescription-strength flu medicines, penicillin and some anti-cancer drugs.

Lin and his team have developed a technique that creates vicinal diamines more easily and without the toxic waste. The process uses electricity and chemistry - electrochemistry - and then employs Earth-abundant manganese.

"The current process generates a lot of waste product to make this chemical bond. When you can create a product electrosynthetically, rather than chemically, it is much more straightforward and sustainable," Lin said.

Fu N, Sauer GS, Saha A, Loo A, Lin S.
Metal-catalyzed electrochemical diazidation of alkenes.
Science. 2017 Aug 11;357(6351):575-579. doi: 10.1126/science.aan6206.

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