No surprise that the public interest is readily attracted through the media to the latest fashions in science and it’s good that there is a continual stimulus of discoveries and inventions to whet the practical and intellectual appetites. Behind all the innovations the basic rules of the chemical and physical sciences still apply governing what will work and what won’t. It’s the skill and imagination of the scientist and technologist that brings things together to create innovation. Or in the case of biology, it’s time and evolution that work together. When I look out of my office window I see objects from both nature and technology: trees, flowers, painted objects, dyed banners, for example. I’ve picked or implied colours because the colour is the visible manifestation of one of the most important branches of chemistry; scientists call it heterocyclic chemistry. Basically, it’s defined as the chemistry of compounds containing atoms joined in rings, mostly with 5 or 6 atoms, most of which are carbon but others are nitrogen especially, oxygen, sulfur, or phosphorus and sometimes metals and other elements. I’ve worked in heterocyclic chemistry all of my research career, from PhD onwards and for me, heterocyclic compounds make things happen.

A lot of other people think so too. One source of evidence for this assertion is the publication of patents. The international patent offices’ databases provide information on published applications. Using the subject code ‘C07D’ for Heterocyclic Chemistry we can see from the European Patent Office database that between 50,000 and 60,000 patent applications concerning heterocyclic chemistry have been published each year for the past 10 years. The World Intellectual Property Organisation database lists those applications that have been taken forward to the international stage (PCT as it is known). The numbers are smaller, 2,000 to 3,000, which is not surprising considering the cost at the PCT stage, but in the context of the ubiquity of heterocyclic chemistry, it is interesting to note the specific topics for which international applications have been published.

Here are some recent statements of what the patent is intended to provide from the database:

Organic optical materials:

  • A novel organic compound and alternatively provide an organic compound that can be used as an electron-transport material of a light-emitting element; from Japan
  • A material for organic electroluminescent devices which has high efficiency and a long life, and an organic electroluminescent device using the material; from Korea

Chemical synthesis and process chemistry (typically to provide compounds for use as drugs):

  • A synthesis method for a spiro-oxy indole compound; from Canada
  • A process for making modulators of cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR); from Drugs and medicines:
  • Novel compounds for use in the treatment or prophylaxis of cancers and other proliferative conditions; from Scotland
  • A compound as a glucokinase activator useful for treatment of metabolic diseases and disorders, preferably diabetes and more preferably Type II diabetes; from Switzerland
  • Compounds and methods for treating tuberculosis; from India.

I’ve selected arbitrarily examples from different fields covering the whole world. If you’ve read any of my previous Special Reports, you’ll recognise that these applications overlap substantially with research here at the University of Strathclyde. Like the subjects of the patents quoted above, our research is at the cutting edge of making things possible especially in high performance materials and in medicinal chemistry and drug discovery. Heterocyclic chemistry has never been so penetrating through its significance in applications.


Prof Colin J Suckling OBE DSc FRSE

Research Professor of Chemistry

Department of Pure & Applied Chemistry, University of Strathclyde

Tel: 0141 548 2271


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