Assistant Professor of Chemistry Nicholas Ball has received a $394,145 research enhancement grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to focus on the development of new chemical reactions that can facilitate drug target discovery using sulfur (VI) fluorides. For this three-year grant, Ball will work with an industry collaborator, Pfizer’s Christopher am Ende, and Chapman University’s Maduka Ogba. This collaboration will expand opportunities for Pomona College students to gain research experiences at Pfizer and in computational chemistry.

Nitrogen-based sulfur (VI) compounds such as sulfonamides, sulfamides and sulfamates are important compounds that have therapeutic applications against cancer, HIV and microbial infections. But existing approaches to making these compounds are limited by the commercial availability of the starting materials, and by harsh chemical reactions that prevent late-stage functionality of the compounds.

Ball’s lab has been working on sulfur-fluoride exchange (SuFEx) chemistry, which is a promising new pathway to synthesize sulfur-based compounds by using easy-to-handle starting materials such as inexpensive Lewis acid salts and organic-based catalysts. The successful implementation of the research proposed for this grant will represent a considerable advance over current methods that rely on starting materials that are challenging to synthesize or isolate.

In addition, it will enable the development of new and diverse chemical libraries for discovery of new possible drugs.

Just as important as the academic and industry contribution that the research from this grant could have is the industry research experience that undergraduate students will gain. The work in this proposal will expose them to biomedical research with significant focus on synthesis and medicinal chemistry.

“This NIH funding will support undergraduate students and two post-baccalaureate scholars to do research in my lab on sulfur-fluoride exchange chemistry,” says Ball. “Professor Maduka Ogba, a former Robbins Postdoctoral Fellow in Pomona’s Chemistry Department and now assistant professor at Chapman, will receive funding for his students to do computational modeling to understand the mechanism of our reaction.”

Students from Ball’s lab have been instrumental in generating data for this grant and some will also be involved in lab work for the study. The students include Sabrina Carneiro ’21, Jonathan Elisabeth ’23, Evan Flitz ’22, Nathan Friede ’22, Junha Gu ’21, Sam Khasnavis ’21, Sabrina Kwan ’20, Pedro Martinez Velez ’21 and alumnus Cristian Woroch ’19.