Given the wide span of the Grand Challenge, the impact of any achievement towards Dial-a-Molecule will reach far beyond academia. Not only will advances affect industry and economy but addressing the Grand Challenge will be of benefit to society as a whole and will aid government to maintain its role in the world economy.
The grand challenge provides the UK academic community with an opportunity to focus on a truly transformative problem and to be creative and outward-looking in respect of the science that they undertake.
It encompasses areas highlighted in the 2009 international (Klein) review as critical to the continued health of UK chemistry and addresses a number of weaknesses identified in the recent EPSRC landscape review (e.g. the potential for more widespread industry-academic partnerships in catalysis; the explicit engagement of ECRs; and the need for synthetic chemists and chemical engineers to engage more in multidisciplinary research.
Alongside the implicit interactions between synthetic chemists and chemical engineers, this project provides a mechanism for engagement with disciplines as diverse as computer science, mechanical and electrical engineering, mathematics, analytical science, physics, surface science, biotechnology, chemical biology, medicine, materials, biochemistry, nano-materials and nano-science. The opportunities for academic growth and the development of new research paradigms are immense. The current Grand Challenge is unique to the UK and offers UK researchers the chance to engage in agenda-setting collaborative research that will define the way molecules are made worldwide for the foreseeable future. It will also offer clearly visible benefits of global importance (e.g. lower-cost healthcare, energy solutions, cleaner/greener processes) that will serve to inspire future generations of students to take up studies in the chemical sciences, engineering and related disciplines, securing the future supply of experts to move the discipline forward.
For all scientists involved in the network it provides the opportunity to form new cross disciplinary collaborations to compete for funding in areas which are complementary to their existing research programs. The collaborations established will also enable scientists outside of chemistry/chemical engineering to enhance their own science through interactions with the key commercial and intellectual issues in chemistry. The difficulty and complexity of the problems synthesis poses will drive advancement in these other fields.
For synthetic chemists Dial-a-Molecule provides a framework to encourage creativity and adventure in developing synthesis, together with the invigorating effect of input from other disciplines, with a clear, very ambitious, long term goal. It should also provide routes to the widespread adoption of tools such as automated reaction platforms, real time reaction monitoring, Electronic Lab Notebooks, theoretical modelling of reactions, and smart computer assisted synthetic planning in academia.
An increase in the speed and efficiency of synthesis will have a direct and substantial effect on the numerous academics who are users of molecules whether it be for biological or materials applications, or just to investigate their properties. The provision of molecules is the rate limiting step in many of theses pursuits and removal of this constraint will allow faster progress and much more imagination in selecting molecules to provide the desired function. The Directed Assembly of Extended Structures with Targeted Properties Grand Challenge is one such beneficiary and extensive collaboration/cross-talk between the two GCs is planned.
The UK has a strong, internationally leading Chemical Industry, spanning the global pharmaceutical and agrochemical sectors through to emerging high-tech SME’s, each generating huge revenue for the UK exchequer. A critical bottleneck in all sectors is the availability of given target molecules on demand. Any advance to address that bottleneck will generate increased revenues, reduce costs and hasten the delivery of new products to consumers. The pharmaceutical industry is still the third most profitable economic activity (after tourism and finance) in the U.K. But is experiencing significant and growing pressures from competitors in the emerging economies. It is economically vital that the UK retains a vibrant presence in this sector, and this can only be achieved by leading in the area of generation of new intellectual property, be that in the form of determining which marketable molecules are made or how they are made. The work outlined herein will address these issues, helping secure the future economic health of the sector.
If it were possible to make any molecule on demand at reasonable cost (monetary and environmental) the societal impact would be immense. It would lead to the faster delivery of new medicines and medical technologies, increased yields in food production, sustainable new materials, next generation electronics, improved forensic determination and security devices etc. Moreover, it underpins futuristic technologies, being essential to the development of useful nano-machines and next generation of post-silicon super-computers. To this must be added the combined challenges posed by a year-on-year increase in consumer demand, the world’s finite natural resources and a public ever more conscious of its environmental legacy – it is unsustainable (and unethical) to simply transfer the burden of low-cost production and waste generation to other countries. The outcomes of this Grand Challenge will allow the UK to take a lead in reducing environmental impact while providing the next generation drugs, materials and products that society demands and requires.
As well as the economic benefits outlined above, the grand challenge addresses the ever-present dichotomy between wealth creation and environmental impact. The work will allow UK government to take a lead role in setting international standards to minimize global manufacturing waste and emissions and in providing low-cost healthcare to the third world and emerging economies, etc.