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Tuesday, April 20th, 2021

DARPA program drives automated molecule production

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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Make-It Program is making progress toward fully automated rapid molecule production.

The Make-It research teams are developing automated devices that create the desired chemical based on the software-generated recipe. These software tools could free up chemists to focus on chemical innovation rather than testing various molecular synthesis pathways. That, in turn, could speed the pace of chemical discovery for a range of defense products and applications.

“A seasoned research chemist may spend dozens of hours designing synthetic routes to a new molecule and months implementing and optimizing the synthesis in a lab,” Anne Fischer, program manager in DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office, said. “Make-It is not only freeing chemists to expend brain power in other areas such as molecular discovery and innovation; it is opening chemical synthesis and discovery to a much broader community of scientific researchers who will benefit from faster development of new molecules.”

Fischer added that biologists in need of molecules for their research would be able to produce them on-demand as opposed to buying them in bulk from a chemical supplier.

Automated chemical synthesis also creates reproducible procedures.

“We’re essentially coding the chemical synthesis process,” Fischer said. “This promises to assure reproducibility to exacting standards, no matter where you produce it. Because the routes are implemented with software-based instructions, any Make-It synthesis device should produce chemicals with precisely the same make-up every time.”

Further, automation promotes a safer, cleaner, and more secure process for chemists as they don’t need to handle dangerous chemicals physically.

“What’s exciting about Make-It is the prospect of being able to make any molecule,” Fischer said. “We’ve already shown in DARPA’s Pharmacy on Demand effort in the Battlefield Medicine program that an automated flow-chemistry machine can produce common pharmaceuticals on demand in austere locations, obviating the need for transporting and stockpiling key medicines for our troops in forward-deployed environments. Now we’ve opened up rapid chemical innovation to address not just pharmaceuticals but all areas of defense.”