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Engineering Enzymes for the Preparation of Pharmaceutical Amines

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, April 15, 2019
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Chiral Amines are found in a large proportion of currently administered small molecule drugs. The method of choice for their synthesis is the reductive amination of ketones, yet, while asymmetric methods of formation that employ transition metal catalysis exist, each is dependent on precious metals, such as iridium or rhodium, rendering such methods ultimately unsustainable. Enzymatic methods of reductive amination would therefore be attractive, as they would offer a sustainable alternative to amine formation with excellent stereoselectivity. Until recently, the only enzymes capable of enzymatic reductive amination were amino acid dehydrogenases (AADHs) that had been engineered to accept ketones, rather than keto-acids, as substrates [1,2]. More recent work by Genoscope in France has described the existence of native amine dehydrogenases (AmDHs) which will convert ketones into amines with the addition of ammonia [3]. However, each of these methods is largely limited to the production of primary amines.

As part of our continuing studies into enzymes that have potential for the industrial production of amines, we have recently described a ‘reductive aminase’ enzyme (RedAm) that will convert ketones into chiral amines with high stereoselectivity when supplemented with the biological reductant NADPH [4]. Significantly, the enzymes are able to catalyse the asymmetric reductive amination of ketones with primary amines to form secondary amine products, such as the anti-Parkinson’s drug (R)-rasagiline. We have determined the structure of this and other enzymes as a first step to the structure-guided engineering of the enzymes.

In collaboration with Pfizer Ltd, we are working towards the rational engineering of these catalysts for expanded substrate specificity and process suitability. In this project we will look to identify new enzymes for the synthesis of chiral amines of interest, and use novel structures as a basis for engineering mutants capable of using a wider range of amines. This will result in an expanded portfolio of enzymes for the direct asymmetric formation of secondary amine products.

The project will involve aspects of Molecular Biology, X-ray crystallography and Protein Engineering but will also require an understanding of organic chemistry. The successful applicant will have, or expect to obtain, a degree in Biochemistry or Chemistry and will ideally have taken relevant options in biological chemistry along with a project featuring molecular biology techniques.

This project is funded 50% by Pfizer and 50% by a Department of Chemistry studentship.

Role and Responsibilities of 50% Teaching Studentship:
To assist with undergraduate practical Chemistry teaching for 3 years. This is likely to equate to:

• 37 hours of demonstrating per year in the undergraduate teaching laboratories during term time. Most of your teaching duties will take place in Autumn and Spring term
• 2.5 hours per year of departmental tours for UCAS visit days in the Autumn Term

In common with all graduate students, you will receive training provided by the Chemistry Department and the University’s Research Excellence Training Team (RETT). The Chemistry Department has a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) Training Programme for assisting in laboratory practicals. You will receive additional training specific to developing teaching material online and assessing practical work.

All research students follow our innovative Doctoral Training in Chemistry (iDTC): cohort-based training to support the development of scientific, transferable and employability skills. All research students take the core training package which provides both a grounding in the skills required for their research, and transferable skills to enhance employability opportunities following graduation. Core training is progressive and takes place at appropriate points throughout a student’s higher degree programme, with the majority of training taking place in Year 1. In conjunction with the Core training, students, in consultation with their supervisor(s), select training related to the area of their research. The iDTC themes are broad, interdisciplinary, and fit within the Department’s research expertise. Themes are flexible and adapt in line with the evolving research landscape. Each theme has a leader who oversees the training offered. Students may select courses from other themes where appropriate.

Scientific Training will include aspects of organic chemistry, analytical chemistry, molecular biology, protein engineering and X -ray crystallography in the York Structural Biology Laboratory.

The Department of Chemistry holds an Athena SWAN Gold Award and is committed to supporting equality and diversity for all staff and students. The Department strives to provide a working environment which allows all staff and students to contribute fully, to flourish, and to excel:

This PhD will formally start on 1 October 2019. Induction activities will start on 30 September.

Funding Notes

Value: This studentship is funded 50% by Pfizer Ltd and 50% by a Department of Chemistry Teaching Studentship. It covers: (i) a tax-free annual stipend at the standard Research Council rate (£14,777 for 2018-19), (ii) tuition fees at the UK/EU rate, (iii) funding for consumables.

Eligibility: Studentships are available to any student who is eligible to pay tuition fees at the home rate: View Website


[1] Abrahamson, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2012, 51, 3969; [2] Abrahamson, Adv. Synth. Catal. 2013, 355,1780; [3] Mayol, Catal. Sci. Technol. 2016, 6: 7421. [4] Aleku, Nature. Chem. 2017, 9, 961.

Candidate selection process:

• You should submit an application for a PhD in Chemistry and a Teaching Studentship Application by 15 April 2019
• The supervisor may contact their preferred candidates either by email, telephone, web-chat or in person
• The supervisor may nominate up to two candidates to the assessment panel
• Shortlisted candidates will be invited to a panel interview at the University of York on Friday 10 May 2019
• The Awards Panel will award studentships following the panel interviews
• Candidates will be notified of the outcome of the panel’s decision by email

How good is research at University of York in Chemistry?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 47.06

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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