CPE Programme

Developing Efficient Oxidative Biotransformation to Produce Low-Cost Pharmaceutical Compounds

CPE students working in laboratory
CPE students working in laboratory

A team of three researchers – comprising Zhang Wei, a PhD student from the CPE programme, Assoc Prof Li Zhi from NUS and Prof Daniel Wang from MIT – has successfully developed several completely new biocatalysts and catalytic systems for the efficient oxidative biotransformations of pharmaceutical syntheses.

Such a result means that many kinds of pharmaceutical compounds can now be produced in much more simple, economical and environmentally friendly ways. This is because the new method developed by this research team allows for many kinds of pharmaceutical compounds to be produced from a low-cost starting material that comes from a single source. This is a huge improvement from existing methods, which are more complicated and make use of more expensive starting materials. Moreover, the new method of enzymatic oxidative biotransformation (as compared to chemical oxidation) yields products of higher purity and with greater efficiency. In addition, enzymatic oxidative biotransformation is a much more environmentallyfriendly process, because unlike traditional methods which involve the use of large amount of organic reagents, toxic metal catalysts, high pressure and high temperature, enzymatic oxidative biotransformation is carried out in very mild conditions such as that of ambient temperature and neutral pH.

With all these advantages, it is not surprising that the project has generated interest in both the business and research community. One paper generated by the team, for example, was highlighted by the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) as one of six feature articles. Several companies and research institutes have also showed keen interest in the research and potential collaborations are under discussion.