The incorporation of fluorine or fluorine-containing groups into organic molecules can have a dramatic impact on their chemical and biological properties. In particular, fluorinated pharmaceuticals often exhibit improved potency compared to their non-fluorinated analogues and are more metabolically stable. The comparative lack of fluorine-containing natural products means that access to these compounds relies heavily on synthetic organic chemistry and new methods that offer improved efficiency and selectivity or even allow for the preparation of unprecedented classes of organofluorine compound are highly desired.
Our research is centred on the design and application of new methodologies for the synthesis of fluorine-containing organic molecules relevant as pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals. One project line concerns the synthesis, development and application of new widely applicable reagents for installing medicinally relevant fluorinated groups such as the CF3, SCF3 and SF5 moieties. For example, in recent work, we have introduced BT-Reagents as a new class of bench-stable derivatives that enable the deoxygenative synthesis of SCF3 and SeCF3-substituted compounds directly from widely available alcohols.
In other projects we exploit visible light as a tool for enabling the installation and manipulation of fluorine and fluorine-containing functional groups. As part of the DFG-supported Collaborative Research Centre (SFB 1349) “Fluorine-Specific Interactions”, we are investigating selective radical C−F activation reactions which exploit the unique interactions between fluorine atoms and Lewis acids or hydrogen bond donors. These processes enable the synthesis of valuable partially fluorinated compounds from widely available perfluorinated feedstocks.
Alongside our work on organofluorine chemistry, we also develop new reaction methodologies involving photoactivation. As most compounds do not themselves absorb light in the visible part of the spectrum, we take advantage of photocatalysis strategies wherein photocatalysts such as organic dyes or transition metal polypyridyl complexes like [Ru(bpy)3]2+ (bpy = 2,2ʹ-bipyridine) transfer energy either directly or via electron transfer to the substrates of interest. These processes, not only allow abundant and sustainable visible light to be used as an energy source in organic synthesis, but can also lead to unprecedented and exotic reactivity by giving access to reactive radical or ionic intermediates under remarkably mild conditions (typically room temperature using household desk lamps or LEDs).
In one project line, we are focused on the development of new dual catalytic processes where light activation is combined with organocatalysis. Using such approaches, reactivities and selectivities that are complementary to existing processes can be obtained while the wide availability of chiral organocatalysts opens up opportunities for conducting otherwise challenging enantioselective photochemical reactions.
We are grateful to the following funding agencies for generous financial support:
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)
Daimler und Benz Stiftung
Fonds der Chemischen Industrie (FCI)