We plot a new path for drug discovery research

​Pioneering research by our chemists offers new options for drug research

Our organic chemists have discovered a cheap and efficient way to make an unusual type of compound which could push the boundaries of research in the pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries.

Using small quantities of silver salts and silica gel, the researchers have produced compounds made up of 3D molecules known as spirocycles.

This type of molecule has historically been overlooked in drug discovery research. Cost effective supplies of spirocycles could open opportunities for new areas of research, according to Dr Will Unsworth who worked on the research in our Department of Chemistry with Professor Richard Taylor.


“Spirocycles are of great interest to scientists working in drug discovery research,” said Dr Unsworth. 

“This important compound class has been under-explored historically, meaning that the opportunity to discover compounds with previously unseen applications in medicine is much higher.”

The process developed at York uses silver nitrate, the least expensive silver metal - widely used to make photographic film – and silica gel, a drying agent made from silicon dioxide, one of the most abundant materials on earth and readily obtained from sand.

The silver-silica mixture can be recovered easily from the reaction and re-used.

Industrial quantities

“Another big plus is that the process to produce the compounds can be automated, opening up the possibility of larger scale industrial production,” said Professor Taylor.

The research marks the latest milestone in research by scientists at York into more environmentally friendly industrial processes in the pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries.

Earlier research from the same team identified a way of producing six chemicals from one source, a method which saves time and money for industrial chemical manufacturers.​

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This important compound class has been under-explored​​”

Dr Will Unsworth
Featured researcher

Dr Will Unsworth

Research interests in the development of new methods for the synthesis of functionalised, complex molecules with applications

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Featured researcher

Professor Richard Taylor​

Research interests in the synthesis of natural products and related compounds and the development of new synthetic transformations

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Discover the details

Silica-Supported Silver Nitrate as a Highly Active Dearomatizing Spirocyclization Catalyst: Synergistic Alkyne Activation by Silver Nanoparticles and Silica is published in Angewandte Chemie International Edition

Find out more about the work of the Department of Chemistry