K. C. Nicolaou
Wolf Prize Laureate in Chemistry 2016
Kyriacos C. Nicolaou
Affiliation at the time of the award:
Rice University, Houston, TX, USA
“For advancing the field of chemical synthesis to the extremes of molecular complexity, linking structure and function and expanding our dominion over the interface of chemistry, biology and medicine”.
Prof. Kyriacos C. Nicolaou propelled natural product synthesis into the modern era with a level of ambition that has been and continues to be breathtaking. He is undoubtedly the world leader of the present generation in the field of total synthesis and biological activity. He has shown, like nobody else, how to strategically disconnect complex molecules into fragments leading to realizable chemical pathways. This strategy represents a conceptual leap that has been emulated by many others and has broken a “glass ceiling” in the art of synthesis. Professor Kyriacos Nicolaou is the only chemist that has repeatedly been able to finish molecules, any one of which would be the highlight of someone else’s career. No one can match his record of elegant total synthesis of extremely complex molecules. He has made manifold contributions to the development of new methodologies, many now widely used by others, to surmount challenges encountered en route to the target. His syntheses are executed with a beauty and flair that has become legendary and inspired a new generation of chemists to follow his footsteps. A detailed review of his research over the last three decades confirms the enormity and depth of his work that covers virtually all types of natural products with regards to molecular architecture and biological activity. It is enough to mention a small percentage of his huge work to understand his unparalleled achievements. Thus, we can recall the synthesis of endiandric acids (plant metabolites), efrotomycin (antibiotic), amphotericin B (antifungal drug) calicheamicin g1I (anticancer drug), rapamycin (anticancer and immunosuppressive drug), Taxol® (top-selling anticancer drug), sanglifehrin A (immunosuppressant), apoptolidin (antitumor agent), hybocarpone (cytotoxic agent,), coleophomones, uncialamycin (antitumor antibiotics), biyouyanagin A (anti-HIV agent,), hirsutellone B (antituberculosis agent,), and many more very complex molecules aimed at bettering the human life.
Professor Nicolaou’s research program is not only about the incredible array of target oriented syntheses, but also about a staggering range of associated contributions. Their impact on modern medicinal chemistry, is at the extreme of significance. Perhaps more importantly, molecules like maitotoxin on their own represent a frontier for science itself. These molecules are found in the natural world. Why? How were they formed? What do they do? Undaunted by the warnings of skeptics, prof. Professor Nicolaou, through a lifetime of contributions, has put answers to these questions not only in the mind’s eye, but within reach.Professor Kyriacos Nicolaou’s impact on science and society does not exclusively emanate from his publications, but rather, it also flows from the education and training of hundreds of students and postdoctoral fellows. Most significantly, his contributions to education and training extend much beyond his own group. His many didactic reviews and textbooks demonstrate the vigor of the field, help to educate and inspire students all around the world.