On October 5, 2022, the Nobel Prize Committee announced that it had awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Carolyn Bertozzi, Morten Meldal, and Barry Sharpless for laying the foundation of click chemistry and bioorthogonal chemistry.
Molecules can be time-consuming and resource-intensive to produce, often creating unwanted by-products. But this began to change in 2000, when Barry Sharpless pioneered click chemistry. Click chemistry, sometimes called the “Lego of chemistry,” is a simple, reliable technique for manufacturing molecules quickly and avoiding unwanted byproducts. Prior to the development of click chemistry, creating molecules was difficult and time-consuming.
Not long after Sharpless pioneered click chemistry, both Sharpless and Morten Meldal of the University of Copenhagen separately developed the “crown jewel of click chemistry”: the copper catalyzed azide-alkyne cycloaddition, an efficient chemical reaction now used in drug development for mapping DNA.
After these developments, Carolyn Bertozzi of Stanford University elevated click chemistry by developing click reactions that work inside living organisms. Dubbed bioorthogonal reactions, these reactions don’t disrupt cell chemistry, which makes them useful for tracking biological processes. Bioorthogonal reactions have allowed researchers to improve cancer pharmaceutical targeting, an advancement which is currently being tested in clinical trials.
Sharpless’, Meldal’s, and Bertozzi’s efforts have ushered the field of chemistry into a new age of functionalism. Their work will have a variety of applications, such as developing more effective pharmaceuticals faster and more cleanly along with implementing new mechanisms into organic materials, such as electrical conductivity, cellular immunity, and photosynthesis. Because of these advancements, Sharpless, Meldal, and Bertozzi were jointly awarded the 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. This is Sharpless’ second chemistry Nobel, an achievement which was previously held only by Frederick Sanger.
The three laureates will split the 10 million Swedish kronor, or $915,000 USD, prize equally.