"What I seek are beautiful structures in nature, those molecules that offer architectural novelty and a challenge, and then I find a way to make them in the laboratory," said Nicolaou, who holds joint appointments at the University of California, San Diego, and the Scripps Research Institute, where he chairs the chemistry department and holds an endowed chair.
Such molecules are intriguing but can also be useful. Many pharmaceuticals are either based on natural products or are made with methods chemists discovered by studying them.
Indeed, Nicolaou and his research team have synthesized several natural products that doctors now use, among them the anti-cancer drug taxol and vancomycin, the antibiotic considered the last line of defense against highly resistant bacterial infections.
His latest achievement came with one of his graduate students, Phil Baran, whom the dual award also recognizes. In an international race to synthesize CP molecules, Nicolaou and Baran were the first to make this set of highly complicated compounds, which come from a species of juniper and show potential as cholesterol-lowering and possibly anti-cancer drugs.
"Synthesis of the CP molecules was an excellent example of what we do," he said. "Not only did we successfully recreate their diabolical architecture in the lab, but along the way we discovered myriad new reactions that are useful to organic synthesis in general."
A native of Cyprus, Nicolaou said his pursuit of chemistry "was inspired by an outstanding high school teacher." He left the Mediterranean island at
Contact: Allison Byrum
American Chemical Society