April 15, 2009

New catalysts may lead to cheaper drugs

Canadian chemists say they have discovered green catalysts made from iron that might replace more expensive and toxic platinum metals.

University of Toronto scientists said the newly discovered catalysts might become useful in industrial chemical processes used to produce drugs, fragrances and flavors.

The researchers led by Professor Robert Morris said drug synthesis most often relies on the use of catalysts, while the cost of those catalysts influences the ultimate cost of the drug. And if the catalyst is toxic -- as it usually is when platinum-metals such as ruthenium, rhodium and palladium are used -- then it must be removed from the synthesized product, which further escalates the cost.

With a cheaper and less toxic catalyst, like iron, these drawbacks are avoided, said Morris, who noted the use of iron as a catalyst in place of ruthenium is surprising since iron has been considered to be a base metal of low catalytic activity. The successful trick, he said, was to prepare a complex of iron with a structure similar to the most active ruthenium catalyst.

The study, partially funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, appears in the April 9 online edition of the European journal Chemistry.