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Purdue Licenses Reagent for Safer Fluorine Compounds

David Colby (Mark Simons, Purdue University)

David Colby (Mark Simons, Purdue University)

Purdue University in Indiana licensed a reagent developed and patented by one of its organic chemists that makes it safer and more environmentally friendly to add fluorine to organic compounds. The university licensed the reagent, developed in Purdue’s chemistry and pharmacology labs under the direction of professor David Colby, to Aldrich Chemical Co., a subsidiary of research and industrial chemical supplier Sigma-Aldrich in St. Louis.

Colby and colleagues developed a salt form of the chemical hexafluoroacetone hydrate, which they describe in a December 2012 article in the journal Organic Letters. Fluorine is a chemical used in a variety of organic compounds, including medicines and agricultural chemicals. As Colby explains, fluorine binds strongly with carbon, which makes possible durable materials such as Teflon and pharmaceuticals that withstand enzymes and other chemicals in the body.

Incorporating fluorine into organic compounds, however, often requires starting with fluoroform gas that can cause confusion or drowsiness when inhaled, and can produce fluorocarbons that destroy the ozone layer in the atmosphere. Hexafluoroacetone hydrate, the reagent created by Colby and colleagues, is a stable solid that can be used in the open air, and requires no special handling.

Only when mixed with solvents in a controlled chemical process, does the reagent release fluoroform gas, which can then be incorporated into other processes for the production of pharmacueticals, agricultural chemicals, or other compounds.

Aldrich Chemical negotiated the licensing agreement with Purdue’s technology commercialization office. The potential market for the reagent is believed to be sizeable. Some 20 percent of all pharmaceuticals on the market, for example,  contain fluorine, including best-sellers like Lipitor and Prevacid.

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