Young Chemist in Industry 2017 interview: Julien Vantourout

01 December 2017

Julien Vantourout is this year’s Young Chemist in Industry award winner. Julien is an industrial PhD student at GSK and the University of Strathclyde and won the prize for his presentation on the limitations of the Chan-Lam amination of aryl boronic acid used in medicinal and process chemistry.

How do you feel about winning the award?

Winning the Young Chemist in Industry 2017 award was a real honour. I was delighted and grateful to be granted the first prize considering the number of great talks that were delivered during the day. My presentation highlighted the work I conducted through the course of my PhD focusing on the development of new catalytic methodologies at the interface of industry and academia. I am thrilled that all the efforts I put in this project, with the help of both my supervisors – Dr Allan Watson and Dr Albert Isidro-Llobet – were acknowledged by the organising committee.

Why did you decide to enter the competition?

Each year, the Young Chemist in Industry symposium brings together high-quality projects conducted in industry. It is also a great opportunity for young scientists to meet and present their research to a wide panel of industrial and academic scientists. It was certainly the most relevant event to attend as an industrial PhD student.

Tell me more about your research and its applications.

My research focuses on the chemotype reactivity issue in the Chan-Lam amination reaction. This useful C-N bond formation is widely used in both medicinal and process chemistry but encounters major limitations when using aryl boronic acid pinacol esters (BPin) instead of the parent boronic acids. In April 2016, we published a Journal of Organic Chemistry paper that outlined the development of a set of conditions to afford the efficient coupling of aryl BPin species using stochiometric amounts of copper acetate. Then, we decided to try to understand the basis of the BPin reactivity issue. We performed a full mechanistic study, determining the origin of the amine chemotype reactivity, identifying key reactive intermediates, and demonstrating the pivotal role of boron-based by-products.  This led us to find a simple solution to the BPin reactivity problem which involved manipulating the oxidation from Cu(I) to Cu(II) and exploiting three synergistic roles of boric acid. The resulting general catalytic Chan-Lam amination conditions were published in Journal of the American Chemical Society in March 2017 and used in both medicinal and process chemistry projects at GSK.

Why did you decide to do an industrial PhD?

During my chemistry studies, I have always been interested in understanding reaction mechanisms and using innovation to solve important problems. After obtaining my Master’s degree at the University of Lyon, I knew I would like to have a career in academia. But I wanted to ensure that I had first-hand knowledge of industrial challenges to be able to develop industrially-relevant methodologies. Therefore, I decided to join the GSK-University of Strathclyde industrial PhD program because I was convinced it would allow me to have a significant impact on projects at the interface of industry and academia. These three and a half years spent at GSK offered me the opportunity to learn which challenges industry is currently facing, and gave me insight of what I would like to do in the future if I have the chance to have my own research group.

What are your plans for the future?

I am now writing my PhD thesis and will be finishing in March 2018. Then, I will join the group of Prof Phil Baran at the Scripps Research Institute for an eight-month postdoc, focusing on the development of new reactions using electrochemistry. In January 2019, I will start a two-year postdoc in the group of Prof Timothy Jamison at MIT working on the use of flow chemistry to enable challenging electrochemical metal-catalysed transformations. I am really looking forward to both postdoctoral experiences!

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