Winner of the Sir John Meurig Thomas Catalysis Medal 2023 Announced

Dr. Sarah Lovelock receiving JMT medal

The UK Catalysis Hub have named Dr Sarah Lovelock from the University of Manchester as winner of the Sir John Meurig Thomas Catalysis Medal at the UK Catalysis Hub Winter Conference on the 18th of December 2023. Dr Sarah Lovelock was selected from the nominations for top early career scientists working in the United Kingdom to win the medal for 2023. Judges of this year’s Sir John Meurig Thomas Medal said, “The standard of nominations was very high and shows the depth and breadth of catalysis within the UK and covering a wide range of techniques and processes from biocatalysis to heterogeneous catalysis. 

We are delighted to choose Dr Sarah Lovelock for the 2023 JMT medal for her outstanding contributions in the area of developing new biocatalytic routes for the sustainable synthesis of pharmaceutically relevant molecules/materials. With her diverse background of being trained in the reputed universities in UK and abroad (Washington) as well as in industry (Roche and GSK), she has developed a world-class research lab and published research papers in some of the most reputed journals (Science, Nature Chem, JACS) from her independent career. Her research is collaborative (partners within both academia and industry) and multidisciplinary and involves the areas of synthetic chemistry and chemical biology with a central focus on biocatalysis. Sarah has been able to demonstrate new biocatalytic approaches[SL1]  that are greener and more sustainable than the conventional methods to make pharmaceutically relevant compounds such as oligonucleotides.”

The medal honours the achievements of Sir John Meurig Thomas, a distinguished professor in the field of catalysis who sadly passed away in 2020. He was a remarkable man and one of the most eminent figures in catalytic science in the past 100 years, who was a pioneer in many of the techniques and concepts that have now become standard in the field. He was generous with his time and support for the UK Catalysis Hub and its events and the Hub is proud to have established 2016 an annual award in honour of his achievements. He will be missed by scientists in the Hub community and worldwide. The Sir John Meurig Thomas medal was presented at the end of a symposium on the first day of the conference in honour of Sir John Meurig Thomas’s scientific achievements.

Dr Sarah Lovelock delivered a lecture on catalysis to the UK Catalysis Hub Winter conference attended by over 100 people. She said on winning, “I am delighted to have been awarded the 2023 JMT medal and thank the UK Catalysis Hub for this honour. I am particularly grateful to my very talented research group. It is their hard work, great ideas, and dedication, that has made this award possible.”

Dr Sarah Lovelock’s research focusses on the development of biocatalytic solutions to improve sustainable manufacturing of pharmaceuticals, including new drug modalities such as RNA therapeutics. Therapeutic oligonucleotides have the potential to treat a wide range of disease areas including genetic disorders and viral infections. The rapidly growing number of therapies approved and in advanced clinical trials is placing increasing demands on our manufacturing capabilities, and more efficient and cost-effective approaches are urgently needed. Her group are currently developing a biocatalytic platform for the production of diverse oligonucleotide sequences. They have established an approach that produces oligonucleotides in a single operation, which contrasts with the iterative rounds of chain extension, oxidation and deprotection associated with established methods. The process can be used to produce modified sequences, and results in waste minimization and improved green chemistry metrics. Her research group are also interested in developing biocatalytic routes to the nucleoside triphosphate building blocks needed to underpin enzymatic oligonucleotide synthesis, as well as strategies to conjugate oligonucleotides to other (bio)molecules needed for effective and target delivery. They are also applying advanced enzyme engineering technologies to create enzymes with mechanisms not observed in nature, that can be used to manufacture small molecule drugs.

Speakers for the Catalysis Hub Winter conference included members of the Catalysis Hub and wider international catalysis community. The JMT medal was generously sponsored by BP, JM, Dr. Reddy’s, Givaudan and Royal Society of Chemistry Applied Catalysis Group.

Further Information

Selected Papers

1) E. R. Moody, R. Obexer, F. Nickl, R. Spiess, S. L. Lovelock “An Enzyme Cascade Enables Production of Therapeutic Oligonucleotides in a Single Operation” Science 2023, 380, 1150-1154.

2) K. J. D. Van Giesen, M. J. Thompson, Q. Meng, S. L. Lovelock “Biocatalytic Synthesis of Antiviral Nucleosides, Cyclic Dinucleotides, and Oligonucleotide Therapies” JACS Au 2023 3, 13-24.

3) S. L. Lovelock, R. Crawshaw, S. Basler, C. Levy, D. Baker, D. Hilvert, A. P. Green, “The Road to Fully Programmable Protein Catalysis” Nature 2022 606, 49-58

4) A. J. Burke, W. R. Birmingham, Y. Zhuo, B. Zucoloto da Costa, R. Crawshaw, T. W. Thorpe, I. Rowles, J. Finnigan, C. Young, S. J. Charnock, S. L. Lovelock, N. J. Turner, A. P. Green “An Engineered Cytidine Deaminase for Biocatalytic Production of a Key Intermediate of the Covid-19 Antiviral Molnupiravir” J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2022 144, 3761-3765.

5) R. Crawshaw, A. E. Crossley, L. Johannissen, A. J. Burke, S. Hay, C. Levy, D. Baker, S. L. Lovelock, A. P. Green, “Engineering an Efficient and Enantioselective Enzyme for the Morita-Baylis-Hillman Reaction” Nature Chem. 2022, 14, 313-320.


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