Using organic catalysts to facilitate drug development processes

Most medicines, in industry and in academics, are synthesized in a stepwise fashion, like making a sandwich. Just as making a sandwich involves first spreading mustard on a slice of bread, then lettuce, then tomato, then a slice of cheese, pharmaceutical drugs have multiple synthetic steps that move the chemicals through different stages. Dr. Stacey Brenner-Moyer, Associate Professor of Chemistry at Rutgers University, combines all of these processes into one step in a single flask and develops cascade reactions by using organic catalysts like amino acids that are natural, inexpensive, renewable, and sustainable. The application of Dr. Brenner-Moyer’s lab’s green chemical methods in the pharmaceutical industry ultimately may help make the synthesis of certain drugs more efficient, less wasteful, less costly, and greener.

Unlike metal-based catalysts that are more commonly used in the drug development process, organic catalysts can yield chemical reactions and transformations that cannot be created with metal catalysts. In order to develop certain chemical reactions, Dr. Brenner-Moyer’s team looks for small structures or fragments that appear in natural products or medicines, and examines ways to make these structures efficiently and more easily. Collaborating with theoretical, computational, and synthetic chemists as well as biologists, Dr. Brenner-Moyer and her team are making great strides in not only developing new reactions, but also taking these new reactions to explore their practical applications. One such application is an antibiotic, which is very potent and targets an enzyme that is not targeted by any antibiotics currently on the market.

Current research areas include:

  • New Reaction Development: Dr. Brenner-Moyer and her team are trying to target structures that are useful but difficult to access efficiently, by coming up with new reactions and new reaction mechanisms that can access these structures.
  • Medicinal Chemistry: Collaborating with biologists and other chemists, Dr. Brenner-Moyer and her team are applying the reaction in the synthesis of a small library of compounds that they will assay.


Dr. Stacey Brenner-Moyer completed her Sc.B. in chemistry at Brown University. She earned her Ph.D. from Stanford University in 2005, under the tutelage of Prof. Paul Wender. Her Ph.D. research centered on the design, synthesis, and biological evaluation of analogs of bryostatin 1, a complex natural product with potent anti-cancer activity. Afterwards, she was a postdoctoral research associate in the laboratory of Prof. Steven Ley at the University of Cambridge in England. It was here that she was introduced to organocatalysis research. Dr. Brenner-Moyer began her independent career as an assistant professor at the City University of New York (CUNY) at Brooklyn College, where she was subsequently promoted to associate professor. In 2014, she joined the faculty at Rutgers University-Newark as an associate professor.

Dr. Brenner-Moyer always wanted to have a career in which she could help people. When she started in college, the obvious career for that was to be a medical doctor. However, when she took organic chemistry, one of the pre-med requirements, along with all the other aspiring medical doctors, she absolutely loved the course whereas this course was viewed by most other pre-med students as pure evil. She also found herself excelling at this course, while most other pre-med students really struggled with it. She realized that perhaps this was her "calling," and that perhaps chemistry was the way that she could help people. This experience in her very first organic chemistry course led her to major in chemistry, to participate in graduate research related to the design and synthesis of anticancer drugs, and eventually to her independent research into the development of green chemical reactions that can potentially be used to synthesize medicines. “Organic synthesis,” she remarks, “is chemistry with purpose.”

Outside her research, Dr. Brenner-Moyer enjoys cooking and doing outdoor activities.

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National Science Foundation CAREER Award, 2012

American Chemical Society Women Chemists Committee Lectureship Award, 2011