Personal profile


Duncan began his career as an analytical chemist at Reckitt and Colman Pharmaceutical Division (now Reckitt Benckiser), working in both Manufacturing and R & D. He became a Graduate of the Royal Society of Chemistry in 1991. Following this he carried out graduate studies with Prof. Chris Rayner at the University of Leeds, and was awarded a PhD for studies on the Payne-type rearrangement and nucleophilic trapping of 2,3-epoxysulfides. Between 1994 and 1998 he undertook postdoctoral studies with Professor Garry Procter at the University of Salford, studying the application of hetero-Diels-Alder cycloadditions to the total synthesis of aminoglycoside antibiotics; and with Professor Jim Thomas at the University of Manchester, working on the total synthesis of the bryostatins.

Duncan joined the Process R&D department of AstraZeneca Charnwood in 1999 as a process chemist. He specialised in early phase development projects, working closely with Medicinal Chemistry teams to design innovative routes to new pharmaceutical compounds, and leading teams of chemists, analysts and engineers in manufacturing campaigns at laboratory, kilo-lab and pilot plant scale. He developed an interest and expertise in metal catalysis as leader of the AZ Global Catalysis Group, acted as the AZ technical leader in a consortium that successfully bid for EU FP7 funding to investigate catalysis in continuous flow manufacturing processes, and ran an independent research program devising new routes to chiral heterocyclic scaffolds. Duncan joined the University of Huddersfield in 2011 as Senior Research Fellow.

Duncan serves as a committee member of the RSC Heterocyclic and Synthesis Group, and as treasurer of the Gregynog Synthesis Workshop, an annual conference for young synthetic organic chemists.

Research Expertise and Interests

  • Preparation of new antibiotics and anti-tumour compounds, by both de novo synthesis and chemical modification of natural products;
  • Asymmetric catalysis, utilizing a variety of complementary techniques, for example: homogeneous and supported metal-ligand complexes; enzymatic catalysis; organocatalysis and phase transfer conditions;
  • New synthetic methodology for streamlined manufacturing processes, such as functionalization of conventionally unreactive C-H bonds;
  • Design and synthesis of new chiral heterocyclic scaffolds based on challenging architecture such as spirocyclic, bridged bicyclic, and uncommon ring sizes;
  • Innovative manufacturing technology, such as continuous flow processing, membrane reactors and microwave heating;
  • Green and sustainable chemical manufacturing.

Research Degree Supervision

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Research Output 2014 2017

8 Citations

An iron-catalysed C-C bond-forming spirocyclization cascade providing sustainable access to new 3D heterocyclic frameworks

Adams, K., Ball, A. K., Birkett, J., Brown, L., Chappell, B., Gill, D. M., Lo, P. K. T., Patmore, N. J., Rice, C. R., Ryan, J., Raubo, P. & Sweeney, J. B. 1 Apr 2017 In : Nature Chemistry. 9, 4, p. 396-401 6 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Chemical bonds
2 Citations

Catalytic sp3-sp3 Functionalisation of Sulfonamides: Late-Stage Modification of Drug-Like Molecules

Abdulla, O., Clayton, A. D., Faulkner, R. A., Gill, D. M., Rice, C. R., Walton, S. M. & Sweeney, J. B. 31 Jan 2017 In : Chemistry - A European Journal. 23, 7, p. 1494-1497 4 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

sigma Receptors
Pharmaceutical Preparations
5 Citations

An Improved Method for Difluorocyclopropanation of Alkenes

Gill, D., Mclay, N., Waring, M., Wilkinson, C. & Sweeney, J. 26 Jun 2014 In : Synlett. 25, 12, p. 1756-1758 3 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Microwave irradiation
Boiling point