Epoxide Hydrolase for the Synthesis of Chiral Drugs

  • Priya Saini
  • Dipti SareenEmail author
Part of the Environmental Chemistry for a Sustainable World book series (ECSW, volume 22)


Since the racemic enantiomers have different physiologic effects, there are strong recommendations by US FDA for the production of chiral drugs, and since then the chiral drug industry has been growing with 15% growth rate projected for the period 2010–2022. For the synthesis of chiral drugs, enantiopure epoxides and diols serve as important precursors. Though several chemo-catalytic strategies have been employed for their production, nowadays due to a rising environmental concern, there is an upsurge in the development of greener technologies for the production of chiral drugs. Thus, biocatalysis appears as a green alternative.

Here, we have reviewed several biocatalysts for the synthesis of enantiopure epoxides and diols. Among them, epoxide hydrolases from microbes have emerged as one of the key catalysts as they are ubiquitously present, do not require any additional nucleophile or cofactors, are stable and have broad substrate spectra. To identify novel epoxide hydrolases, several screening strategies like enrichment and metagenome screening, 16SrRNA sequencing and genome mining have been adopted. With the expansion of publically available genome database, genome mining provides a quicker, cheaper and easier method for epoxide hydrolases identification.

We have also reviewed the assays available, in detail here, to establish the functional state of epoxide hydrolases. There are spectrophotometric methods like 4-(p-nitrobenzyl) pyridine assay, adrenaline assay, sodium-metaperiodate assay, p-nitrostyrene oxide assay and fluorophotometric assay along with the chromatographic techniques like gas chromatography and high-performance liquid chromatography. The spectrophotometric methods have some limitations as 4-(p-nitrobenzyl) pyridine assay is not very accurate at low epoxide conversion ratio; only aromatic epoxide can be detected in sodium-metaperiodate, while fluorogenic assay requires additional screening step with industrially important epoxides. The chromatographic method like gas chromatography involves extra step of derivatization of diols before analysis; compounds should be volatile and must not degrade when heated at high temperature, whereas in high-performance liquid chromatography, detectors are non-destructive, and samples do not require any further treatment before analysis. All the studies reviewed here establish epoxide hydrolases as vital green biocatalysts, for the production of chiral pharmaceutical drug intermediates.


Epoxide hydrolases Enantioselective Chiral drugs Biocatalysts Epoxides Diols Kinetic resolution Green technology 



This work was financially supported by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) via Grant No. BT/PR/4694/PID/6/633/2012, Government of India, New Delhi. PS gratefully acknowledges DBT for the SRF. The financial assistance received from the Department of Science and Technology-Promotion of University Research and Scientific Excellence (DST-PURSE) and University Grants Commission-Special Assistance Programme (UGC-SAP) (DRS Phase-I) is duly acknowledged.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiochemistryPanjab UniversityChandigarhIndia

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