A SCIENTIST is on the verge of a vital breakthrough in drug technology in Huddersfield.
Now Dr Wesley Moran, a lecturer at Huddersfield University, has been awarded more than £100,000 to aid his quest for a chemical process that could lead to faster, safer and cheaper production of life-saving drugs.
Dr Moran, who joined the University in 2007, has obtained his award from the prestigious Leverhulme Trust, which seeks to fund research that is highly original and significant.
Of the 175 researchers who went through the application process at the same time as Dr Moran, fewer than one in five were successful.
He will receive £105,802 over two years for his project to develop a new way to convert cheap materials into the building blocks for chemical synthesis.
The problem that has to be overcome is the fact that molecules which are virtually identical do in fact exist as mirror images of each other – like a left hand and a right hand.
One of these closely matched molecules can safely be used in drug manufacture, but its mirror image might be toxic.
It is therefore vital to be able to separate the two.
Dr Moran aims to develop a new means of doing this in the laboratory. One breakthrough he hopes to make is to produce a chemical synthesis without the use of metals – such as lead – which are highly toxic.
He said: “It is difficult to get every single atom of the metal away from your drug molecule, so if you don’t use a metal in the synthesis of a drug you don’t have that problem.
“Therefore we are trying to develop new ways to produce reactions that we can already do with metals, but using some other material, so that we don’t have that toxicity problem.”
The aim is to use materials such as crude oil extracts, which also have the advantage that they are less expensive.
“We want to convert cheap chemicals extracted from crude oil into more valuable materials,” added Dr Moran.
And if his research means that the process of synthesis is speeded up, then the end result is that safe drugs could be produced more cheaply – and this would be of great interest to major pharmaceutical and chemical companies.
Dr Moran’s studies in synthetic chemistry took him to a number of universities in the UK and the USA before he was appointed to his post within the School of Applied Sciences at Huddersfield, with the aim of building up a world-class research programme.
“Whereas several other universities have closed their chemistry departments, the subject is expanding and is well resourced at Huddersfield,” he says.