New synthesis promises to cut cost of making amine drugs

By Phil Taylor

- Last updated on GMT

iStock/K-Kwanchai
iStock/K-Kwanchai

Related tags: Pharmacology, Amine

Scientists in Switzerland have developed a simple and cheap way to synthesise amines - compounds that form the backbone of many active pharmaceutical ingredients.

Amines are widely-used chemical intermediates and turn up in polymers, pharmaceuticals and fine chemical products, along with many pharmaceuticals and household products.

Amines that contain a ring-like structure known as an aryl group are seen in pharmaceuticals such as the antipsychotic aripiprazole, cholesterol-lowerer rosuvastatin, anticancer drug imatinib and local anaesthetic lidocaine, and are also used as solvents and catalysts in drug production.

Chi Wai Cheung and Xile Hu of the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have developed a new synthetic route for amines that cuts a step out of the currently-used process and makes use of less costly starting materials.

While aryl amines are typically synthesised from anilines - which are in turn synthesized by hydrogenation of nitroarenes -  the EPFL researchers have now developed a way to make them directly from nitroarenes, which are often cheaper than anilines, as well as alkyl halides. 

Using a simple iron catalyst, the researchers were able to couple amines to a number of alkyl halides, a group of organic compounds widely used in commercial products and of great usefulness in medicinal chemistry. The research is published​ in the journal Nature Communications​.

The method was shown to have a high tolerance for the addition of functional groups to the amine molecule - including groups that require protection under conventional amine synthesis - making them "versatile and well suited for a broad range of applications​," according to the researchers.

"The current method can be already considered as a valuable alternative to the conventional amination methods such as direct alkylation and reductive amination​," write the authors.

The global amines market is estimated to reach almost $20 billion by 2020, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.3% between 2015 and 2020, according to a Markets and Markets report.

The bulk of the market is accounted for by applications in personal care products where they are used as stabilisers, chemical intermediates and neutralisers, although pharma represents a sizeable category in its own right.

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