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Ronald Breslow Award for Achievement in Biomimetic Chemistry

January 8, 2007 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 85, ISSUE 2

Credit: Courtesy of François Diederich
Credit: Courtesy of François Diederich

Michael Freemantle

Sponsored by the Breslow Endowment

François Diederich, professor in the department of chemistry and applied biosciences at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich, has received international acclaim for his seminal work in chemical biology and the chemistry of carbon-rich, fullerene-based, and acetylene-based advanced materials.

Diederich has made many contributions to understanding weak interactions and solvent effects in chemical and biological complexation. In the 1980s, he was one of the first scientists to investigate the complexation of neutral organic molecules in water, performing quantitative binding studies with elegantly designed, potent cyclophane receptors. He prepared receptors that dissolve cholesterol rapidly and efficiently in aqueous solution.

Around 1990, calorimetric studies in his laboratory showed that tight apolar complexation in water is strongly enthalpy-driven. Since this work, enthalpy-driven apolar complexation, also referred to as the "nonclassical hydrophobic effect," has been recognized in numerous biological binding events.

"In the mid-1990s, Diederich introduced a logical extension to his previously detailed molecular recognition studies with synthetic receptors by addressing molecular recognition with biological receptors using structure-based approaches," observes J. Fraser Stoddart, Fred Kalvi Professor of NanoSystems Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles. "Increasingly, his research is addressing targets from Third World diseases, such as AIDS, malaria, shigellosis, and sleeping sickness, that are somewhat neglected by the First World pharmaceutical industry.

"Diederich has also profoundly influenced the development of dendrimer chemistry," Stoddart notes. "In his studies on functional dendrimers, he positions cofactors, such as iron hemes, apolar cyclophane building sites, or hydrogen-bonding clefts, as the initiator cores into the centers of dendrimers. In these mimics of globular proteins, the functional core is efficiently shielded from the bulk solvent and, in aqueous solution, encounters a unique microenvironment of reduced polarity."

Born in Luxembourg in 1952, Diederich studied chemistry at the University of Heidelberg, in Germany, where he received his doctorate in 1979. He then moved to UCLA as a postdoctoral fellow for two years before taking up a position as research associate at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, in Heidelberg, in 1981. Four years later, he returned to UCLA, where he eventually became professor of organic and bioorganic chemistry. He took up his present position in 1992.

"After moving to ETH Zurich, I recognized that studies in chemical molecular recognition in hundreds of laboratories worldwide had generated enormously broad and in-depth insights into molecular recognition principles," he says. "However, while I was consulting with the pharmaceutical industry, it also became apparent to me that this work only had limited impact on approaches such as structure-based lead generation and optimization.

"It became clear to me that, in order to enhance my impact on medicinal chemistry developments, it would be desirable to add molecular recognition studies with biological receptors to our program. Until then, it had been concerned with biomimetic systems—including dendritic model systems for globular proteins. We started to employ a structure-based approach to design a new class of nonpeptidic inhibitors of thrombin. As a result, the attention to our work in chemical and biological recognition from the medical chemistry community increased rapidly."

Diederich has received numerous awards and honors, including the ACS Arthur C. Cope Scholar award, in 1992, and the Alan Berman Research Publication Award, U.S. Department of the Navy, in 1994. He is a foreign honorary member of the American Academy of the Arts & Sciences, has published more than 500 research papers, and ranks consistently among the 25 most cited chemists worldwide, according to the Institute for Scientific Information. He is also a member of the editorial boards of several journals, including Angewandte Chemie, for which he currently serves as chairman of the editorial board.

The award address will be presented before the Division of Organic Chemistry.



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