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(C) University of Cambridge 2009 - Steven Victor LeyMore accolade for Steven Ley, pioneer in applied organic chemistry

October 2009. Prof. Steven Ley, Head of the Department at Cambridge University received another prestigious science award, the Heinrich-Wieland-Prize sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim. This is his third award after the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Perkin Prize for Organic Chemistry and the Tetrahedron Prize for Creativity in Organic Chemistry from Elsevier. A spokesperson of Boehringer Ingelheim said at the occasion that with awarding the Heinrich Wieland Prize Boehringer Ingelheim aims to foster research on lipids and other biologically active substances in the areas of chemistry, biochemistry, physiology as well as clinical medicine. Since 1964 60 scientists have received the prize including Nobel laureates 1985 Michael Brown and Joseph Goldstein.

Steven Victor Ley was born in 1945. He obtained his PhD in Chemistry at Loughborough University in 1972. Thereafter he performed post-doctoral research at Ohio State University and Imperial College where he became later Head of Department. In 1992 he was nominated BP (1702) Professor of Organic Chemistry at the University of Cambridge.

Prof. Ley is a pioneer in green chemistry and an expert in the synthesis of natural products. In is Cambridge Laboratory named after Thomas Whiffen he follows the tradition of the reputed alkaloid chemist and entrepreneur. Here Ley achieved total synthesis of more than 120 natural compounds, such as Bengazole A and B, a new class of lipophilic molecules with antifungal activity. He is the inventor of Tetra-n-butylammonium Per-ruthenate TPAP reagent), which is a widely used catalytic oxidant. His research on synthesis of biologically active substances having an acetylene skeleton in the molecule, or an organic functional material has led up to catalysts applicable for manufacture of polymer materials, liquid crystals or optical materials. Ley’s scientific work then is of equal interest to the chemicals, pharmaceutical, agro and electronic industries with major companies such as AstraZeneca, BASF, Daihatsu, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, Roche, or Wyeth.

With more specific regard to pharma intermediates and drugs more recent achievements are on elucidating the regulation of the ERK/MAP kinase signalling pathway by Tumor Progression Locus-2 (TPL-2) important for modulating inflammatory response. It is leading up to powerful inhibitors which are currently under development. Another recent examples are the synthesis of the C‑reactive protein inhibitor compound designed by Mark Pepys, Royal Free Hospital (UK) as well as development of small molecule ligands to treat transthyretin amyloidosis with Pepys and Vittorio Bellotti, Università degli Studi di Pavia (IT). “Both projects are at the top level of scientific originality, and have been recognised as such by both major scientific prizes and grant awards, and of great potential medical significance” Mark Pepys comments on the collaboration with his colleague Steve Ley. Amyloidosis is a disease caused by extracellular deposition of insoluble abnormal fibrils. It predominantly affects the heart, but also eyes and kidney. It is rare in Caucasians, but medical epidemiologist estimate that it some 1.3 million Afro Americans are carriers of this disease. The development of a combined small molecule-antibody to treat amyloidosis is currently commercialised in Pentraxin Therapeutics Ltd. for GSK. Several other companies are developing Prof. Ley’s research into products such as Chiroscience (UCB Celltech) at Slough. A second area of interest towards major efforts are dedicated is development of enabling technologies for organic synthesis in the so-called Innovative Technology Centre at Cambridge. This is resulting in a number of industrially attractive methods in microfluidic flow chemistry or instruments like microwave reactors for automated syntheses. While supporting technology transfer throughout his career he is not actively taking major roles in these firms. Source: University of Cambridge

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