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Biological Chemistry


by Bibiana Campos Seijo
October 5, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 39

This month, we launch a feature called Perspectives. It is an opinion piece that we plan to publish on a monthly basis—in the first issue of each month—and it will explore issues that affect the chemistry enterprise. Subject matter experts will offer a unique perspective—hence the name of the column—on a particular topic, shining a light on aspects of our science that are worth celebrating, as well as parts that need to be adjusted, repaired, or thrown away altogether.

With this, we are seeking to begin a deeper dialogue with our readers and look forward to facilitating and engaging in conversations and useful debate around timely topics. In future issues we’ll have Perspectives on a variety of themes including laboratory safety and the future of chemistry, to name a couple. If you have suggestions for topics or experts that you’d like to see featured, please do let us know at

The first Perspectives (see page 32) is about collaborations in the field of organic chemistry. The authors, Huw M. L. Davies and Daniel Morton of the Center of Selective C–H Functionalization, tell us about how the discipline has experienced a shift from a fiercely competitive environment to a more diverse and collaborative atmosphere in which researchers can share and exchange ideas and work toward common goals. And they tell us how this shift drove the creation of the center, which brings together experts in the field of C–H functionalization from more than 23 research groups in the U.S.

C–H functionalization is a hot topic at the moment; it was also the theme of a presentation that I moderated during C&EN’s second virtual symposium. The event took place on Sept. 16 and gathered a renowned group of scientists from academia, biotech, and pharma who, under the theme “Advances in Drug Discovery & Development,” presented the latest research and technology driving the design, discovery, and development of new drugs.

The talk was given by M. Christina White, a professor of chemistry at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She spoke about her team’s groundbreaking work on the discovery and development of small-molecule catalysts that allow the integration of oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon into aliphatic and allylic C–H bonds, exploiting differential sensitivity to the bond’s electronic, steric, and stereoelectronic environment without the need for directing groups. The strategy allows the group to introduce functionality late in the synthesis of complex molecular structures, streamlining synthesis and avoiding lengthy protection-deprotection sequences. Fascinating science.

Other presenters at the virtual event included keynote speaker Robert Plenge, a vice president of Merck & Co.; Christopher P. Austin of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences; Sean Ekins, chief executive officer of Collaborations Pharmaceuticals; and Vic Myer, chief technology officer of Editas Medicine.

Another keynote speaker was Derek Lowe, of In the Pipeline blog fame and a research fellow at Vertex. His session had a slightly different format, steering away from a traditional presentation and favoring a live Q&A with the audience. Lowe received questions on topics as varied as computational chemistry, epigenetics, and compound libraries.

His perspective on computational chemistry was reflective of a shift in perception of this area. He agreed that, despite mixed success in his personal experience, computational chemistry is improving with the development of new tools and technology. And he conceded that the field is perhaps now developing more quickly than other more established areas of our science.

He also provided good advice for those starting in science. When asked what skill set students should develop to enter the drug discovery world or what path they should take to be the most successful, his answer was, “Be ready to change your skill sets.” In such a competitive environment, “you need to bring something that is not easy to outsource” and an ability to do something new, so keeping up with new technologies and the latest literature is vital.

All were excellent talks, packed with results and expertly delivered. They are now available for on-demand viewing at

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.


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