York prototype will revolutionize drug development

Modern pharmaceutical development depends heavily on cutting-edge work being done by organic chemists like York University’s Michael Organ. The production of chemical compounds for commercial drugs has taken great strides in the past 10 years and Organ is going to ensure that York plays an integral role in the future of this industry.

Right: Professor Michael Organ

The latest work being done by Organ, with Post-Doctoral Fellow Eamon Comer, involves flow chemical synthesis using microwave irradiation. In the past, different types of synthesis have been utilized to achieve chemical compounds necessary for drug creation. The goal has always been to create the maximum number of compounds in the shortest period of time and to be able to isolate each compound accurately. Parallel synthesis, wherein several compounds are produced simultaneously in separate flasks, has emerged as the most efficient style. However, the process has its own limitations.

“The traditional round bottom flask, used in most pharmaceutical drug development, is really the bottle-neck of the industry,” says Organ. “Until now, we have been severely limited by the amount of time it takes to achieve chemical reaction.”

Left: A capillary flow reactor

Organ’s prototype capillary flow reactor is taking parallel synthesis to the next level. This reactor draws fluid through four glass capillaries at a time, while under a microwave magnetron. A micro channel effect is created as the capillaries draw liquid that is from one hundred to one thousand microns in diameter through the microwave irradiation. “This process completes chemical reactions in a matter of seconds, where in the past, it could take an entire day to create one reaction,” Organ says.

The microwave that Organ’s team uses is a Smith Synthesizer, donated by the company Biotage in Uppsalla, Sweden. Biotage, a collaborator in this project, has made a substantial donation to this research; their engineers are working towards making the capillary flow reactor marketable within the next year. This prototype is the first of its kind and has remarkable possibilities. Eventually, the reactor will be able to hold 10 capillaries, increasing exponentially the number of reactions being produced. Additionally, it is compatible with robotic technology that will further speed the process.

Large pharmaceutical companies will soon be able to purchase this device, created at York, thanks to the work of Organ’s team, Biotage collaboration and funding from the Ontario Research and Development Challenge Fund.

Shoshana Green, a York graduate student in English who writes about research at York University, produced this article for YFile.