Prof. Rubén Martín, ICIQ group leader and ICREA professor, has been awarded a European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant to develop the project NOVOFLAT: “Escaping from Flatland by ‘de novo’ Catalytic Decarboxylation Techniques.”
With a 2,5M € budget and 5-year scope, the project aims at creating a new and general method to forge saturated carbon-carbon bonds through a triple catalytic cascade. If the daring approach is successful, as preliminary results suggest, it will provide an “à la carte” tool for chemists that will streamline the preparation of new molecules of interest for lead generation in drug discovery approaches.
Like an orchestra conductor, Martín’s project will harness the power of three catalysts to cooperatively achieve unprecedented transformations. “NOVOFLAT is a new way of understanding catalysis for forging carbon-carbon bonds with improved flexibility, practicality, predictable site-selectivity, preparative utility, stereocontrol and nearly zero waste generation,” explains the scientist.
The triple catalytic cascade will trigger a decarboxylation event while controlling and modulating both site-selectivity and stereocontrol when forging the targeted carbon-carbon bond – and with CO2 as the sole byproduct. Current strategies towards the same goal typically make use of pre-functionalized precursors, which create associated waste products difficult to dispose of or re-use. “Although formally, CO2 is a waste product, it has enormous synthetic potential – and the group knows how to take advantage of it,” quips Martín, who hints the CO2 produced through this method in industrial plants could easily be re-used in situ after its generated.
By tweaking the catalysts, pharmaceutical researchers will be able to easily identify new drug candidates or modify existing ones at will in a practical and modular approach. In this manner, such an approach will provide a new strategy to assemble sp3-hybridized carbon atoms, a dire necessity in the drug discovery pipeline. This way, NOVOFLAT will offer a new platform of the utmost synthetic relevance for the practice of organic synthesis.
“The project is a result of the maturity acquired during the last ten years as a group leader at ICIQ. In addition, the project is a collective effort and a direct recognition of the contributions that my group has made through the years. Without their dedication and enthusiasm, I wouldn’t be here today,” thanks the scientist.
With an overall budget of 450 M€, the ERC has selected 185 daring projects to be funded and explore the most venturous research ideas. ERC Advanced Grants are designed to support excellent scientists in any field at the career stage at which they have already established themselves as research leaders with a recognised track record of research achievements in the last ten years. In this 2020 call, 185 established research leaders were awarded an Advanced Grant. Of a total of 1881 proposals, making the success rate for this call 9,8 %. In the domain of Physical Sciences and Engineering, 839 proposals were submitted and only 82 projects, NOVOFLAT among them, received funding. With the new project, ICIQ adds a total of 21 ERC projects – seven currently in force.
“I am glad to announce a new round of ERC grants that will back cutting-edge, exploratory research, set to help Europe and the world to be better equipped for what the future may hold. That’s the role of blue-sky research. These senior research stars will cut new ground in a broad range of fields, including the area of health. I wish them all the best in this endeavour and, at this time of crisis, let me pay tribute to the heroic and invaluable work of the scientific community as a whole,” commented the President of the European Research Council (ERC), Professor Mauro Ferrari.