Vinyl and Alkynyl Substituted Heterocycles as Privileged Scaffolds in Transition Metal Promoted Stereoselective Synthesis


Biologically active compounds and pharmaceutically relevant intermediates often feature sterically congested stereogenic centers, in particular, carbon stereocenters that are either tertiary tetrasubstituted ones or quaternary in nature. Synthons that comprise such bulky and often structurally complex core units are of high synthetic value and represent important incentives for communities connected to drug discovery and development. Streamlined approaches that give access to a diverse set of compounds incorporating acyclic bulky stereocenters are relatively limited, though vital. They enable further exploration of three-dimensional entities that can be designed and implemented in discovery programs, thereby extending the pool of molecular properties that is inaccessible for flat molecules. However, the lack of modular substrates in particular areas of chemical space inspired us to consider functionalized heterocycles known as cyclic carbonates and carbamates as a productive way to create sterically crowded alkenes and stereocenters.

In this Account, we describe the major approximations we followed over the course of 8 years using transition metal (TM) catalysis as an instrument to control the stereochemical course of various allylic and propargylic substitution processes and related transformations. Allylic substitution reactions empowered by Pd-catalysis utilizing a variety of nucleophiles are discussed, with amination being the seed of all of this combined work. These procedures build on vinyl-substituted cyclic carbonates (VCCs) that are simple and easy-to-access precursors and highly modular in nature compared to synthetically limited vinyl oxiranes. Overall these decarboxylative conversions take place with either “linear” or “branched” regioselectivities that are ligand controlled and offer access to a wide scope of functional allylic scaffolds. Alternative approaches, including dual TM/photocatalyzed transformations, allowed us to expand the repertoire of challenging stereoselective conversions. This was achieved through key single-electron pathways and via formal umpolung of intermediates, resulting in new types of carbon–carbon bond formation reactions significantly expanding the scope of allylic substitution reactions.

Heterocyclic substrate variants that have triple bond functional groups were also designed by us to enable difficult-to-promote stereoselective propargylic substitution reactions through TM catalysis. In these processes, inspired by the Nishibayashi laboratory and their seminal findings in the area, we discovered various new reactivity patterns. This provided access to a range of different stereodefined building blocks such as 1,2-diborylated 1,3-dienes and tetrasubstituted α-allenols under Cu- or Ni-catalysis. In this realm, the use of lactone-derived substrates gives access to elusive chiral γ-amino acids and lactams with high stereofidelity and good structural diversity.

Apart from the synthetic efforts, we have elucidated some of the pertinent mechanistic manifolds operative in these transformations to better understand the limitations and opportunities with these specifically functionalized heterocycles that allowed us to create complex synthons. We combined both theoretical and experimental investigations that lead to several unexpected outcomes in terms of enantioinduction models, catalyst preactivation, and intermediates that are intimately connected to rationales for the observed selectivity profiles. The combined work we have communicated over the years offers insight into the unique reactivity of cyclic carbonates/carbamates acting as privileged precursors. It may inspire other members of the synthetic communities to widen the scope of precursors toward novel stereoselective transformations with added value in drug discovery and development in both academic and commercial settings.

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