Pharmaceutical and agrochemical discovery efforts rely on robust methods for chemical synthesis that rapidly access diverse molecules. Cross-coupling reactions are the most widely used synthetic methods, but these methods typically form bonds to C(sp2)-hybridized carbon atoms (e.g., amide coupling, biaryl coupling) and lead to a prevalence of "flat" molecular structures with suboptimal physicochemical and topological properties. Benzylic C(sp3)–H cross-coupling methods offer an appealing strategy to address this limitation by directly forming bonds to C(sp3)-hybridized carbon atoms, and emerging methods exhibit synthetic versatility that rivals conventional cross-coupling methods to access products with drug-like properties. Here, we use a virtual library of >350,000 benzylic ethers and ureas derived from benzylic C–H cross-coupling to test the widely held view that coupling at C(sp3)-hybridized carbon atoms affords products with improved three-dimensionality. The results show that the conformational rigidity of the benzylic scaffold strongly influences the product dimensionality. Products derived from flexible scaffolds often exhibit little or no improvement in three-dimensionality, unless they adopt higher energy conformations. This outcome introduces an important consideration when designing routes to topologically diverse molecular libraries. The concepts elaborated herein are validated experimentally through an informatics-guided synthesis of selected targets and the use of high-throughput experimentation to prepare a library of three-dimensional products that are broadly distributed across drug-like chemical space.
Experimental and computational details and compound characterization data.