NIGMS Grantee Honored with Nobel Prize in Chemistry


Statement from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences
October 6, 2010

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences congratulates Ei-ichi Negishi, Ph.D., who will share the 2010 Nobel Prize in chemistry with Richard F. Heck, Ph.D., and Akira Suzuki, Ph.D. The Institute has supported Negishi’s work with more than $6.5 million in research grants since 1979.

Photo of a poison dart frog and the structure of pumiliotoxin A, a frog skin toxin. Structure from PubChem
Top: Negishi’s technique made it possible to synthesize therapeutic natural products, including a toxin found in the skin of poison dart frogs.

Bottom: Structure of pumiliotoxin A, a frog skin toxin. Structure from PubChem.

The scientists were recognized for developing “palladium-catalyzed cross couplings in organic synthesis,” methods for making carbon-carbon bonds. Their achievements have given scientists more precise, efficient and environmentally friendly tools for creating a wide range of molecules used in the production of high-tech materials, agricultural chemicals and pharmaceuticals, including the cancer drug Taxol and the asthma drug Singulair.

“Like the frame of a house, carbon-carbon bonds must be right for the structure to be functional and useful,” said Jeremy M. Berg, Ph.D., NIGMS director. “The powerful methods these scientists developed have provided a solid foundation for building a wealth of molecules that have benefitted medicine and industry.”

The molecules that give penicillin its bacteria-killing properties, snakes venom and flowers color are based on carbon-carbon bonds. To make molecules as complex and vast as those found in nature, scientists need to join carbon atoms together. Each of the three scientists selected for the 2010 Nobel Prize in chemistry developed reactions that improved this chemical synthesis. By using the metal palladium as a catalyst, the scientists were able to bring two molecules very close together, allowing them to couple, form a compound with a new carbon-carbon bond, release the product and be ready for another cycle.

Negishi, whose NIGMS grants have focused on the use of transition metals such as palladium to create synthetic reactions, discovered that compounds with carbon-zinc bonds formed effective coupling partners. His method has been used in making natural products with therapeutic properties, including a toxin found in frog skin and an antiviral agent from marine sponges.

NIGMS has a long history of funding Nobel Prize-winning research. Since its creation in 1962, the Institute has supported 38 Nobel laureates in physiology or medicine and now 36 Nobel laureates in chemistry.

More information about NIGMS support of Nobel Prize winners is available at