William Kerr


Personal Statement

Billy Kerr was born in Glasgow and raised in the district of Drumchapel, a quaint fishing village on the banks of the Clyde. His undergraduate studies were undertaken at the University of Strathclyde, where he gained a 1st Class Honours degree in Chemistry in 1983. He then remained at Strathclyde to study towards a PhD with Professor Peter Pauson and Dr David Billington; he gained his PhD in 1986.

From 1986-1988 Billy was engaged as a NIH Postdoctoral Research Associate in the laboratory of Professor Myron Rosenblum, Brandeis University (http://www.brandeis.edu/), Waltham, MA, USA and in 1988 he returned to the UK and joined Professor Steven Ley (http://leygroup.ch.cam.ac.uk/) at Imperial College, London, as a Postdoctoral Research Assistant. In 1989 Billy returned to Strathclyde to take up a Lectureship position in Organic Chemistry, was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1997, and in 2002 to a Professorial Chair in Organic Chemistry. In 2011 Billy was given the endowed Chair of 1919 Professor of Organic Chemistry at Strathclyde.


Research Interests

His research interests cover a broad range of metal-mediated synthetic organic chemistry and, in particular, in the development of new preparative techniques, the creation of asymmetric processes, and the use of these emerging methods in total synthesis programmes.  In 1991 Billy was named as an ICI Fine Chemicals Young Lecturer and in 1997 he was awarded the Glaxo Wellcome Prize for Innovative Organic Chemistry.  In 2005 and 2009 Billy was Visiting Professor at the Technical University of Lodz, Poland.  In addition, from December, 2009, Billy was established as the Director of the University of Strathclyde and GlaxoSmithKline Collaborative MPhil and PhD Programme and now Doctoral Training Centre in Synthetic and Medicinal Chemistry.

Strategic Research Collaborations

University of Strathclyde and GlaxoSmithKline Collaborative MPhil and PhD Programme (2009-)

University of Strathclyde and GlaxoSmithKline Collaborative Doctoral Training Centre in Synthetic and Medicinal Chemistry (2012-)

The University of Strathclyde and GlaxoSmithKline Collaborative MPhil and PhD Programme was launched in Dec. 2009. This knowledge transfer venture is the first of its kind within the UK pharmaceutical industry, with Chemistry at Strathclyde having been chosen as the sole project partner.  In summary, this programme provides an innovative framework which enables GSK chemistry employees to work towards higher research degrees (MPhil and PhD) through their work-based projects in collaboration with the University of Strathclyde.  To date, a total of 21 registered GSKresearch students has been reached.  This has been achieved by extending the programme beyond Medicinal Chemistry within GSK and into the areas of (i) Fragment-based Drug Discovery, (ii) Process Chemistry, and (iii) Computational Chemistry.

The uniqueness of this partnership was recognised by the Life Sciences Cross Party Group of the Scottish Parliament and has been endorsed by a Scottish Parliamentary motion in Jan. 2010.  See: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/28877.aspx?SearchType=Advance&ReferenceNumbers=S3M-05519

These collaborative programmes with GSK have now been extended into the Strathclyde Institute for Pharmacy and Biomedical Science (SIPBS) and to encompass the research areas of Drug Metabolism and Pharmacokinetics (DMPK) and Biological Sciences.  To date, a total of 7 additional registered GSK research students has been reached in these extended areas.

Professor Kerr is the Collaborative MPhil and PhD Programme Director across all areas of Chemistry, DMPK, and Biological Sciences. Dr Harry Kelly, Chemistry Operations Manager, GlaxoSmithKline,Stevenage, is the GSK-based Co-Director for all programme disciplines.

In 2011 this overall endeavour was further extended with the establishment of Collaborative Doctoral Training Centre in Synthetic and Medicinal Chemistry with GSK.  With funding of approx. £2million, this will support the initiation of 28 new and additional PhD studentships through 2012 and 2013; 16 PhD students will be based at GSK Stevenage (on GSK-based programmes with Strathclyde co-supervision), whilst 12 PhD students will be based at Strathclyde (on Strathclyde-based programmes with GSK co-supervision), with placements in both directions.

This programme has been highlighted as an exemplar (Case Study) in Sir Tim Wilson’s Review of University-Business Collaboration(commissioned by the UK Government); additionally, this initiative was also highlighted in Tim Wilson’s presentation at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth meeting at the Royal Society on 1st Feb., 2012.  See: http://www.strath.ac.uk/press/newsreleases/headline_594415_en.html

Professor Kerr is the Director of the Collaborative Doctoral Training Centre in Synthetic and Medicinal Chemistry with GSK.  Dr Harry Kelly, Chemistry Operations Manager, GlaxoSmithKline,Stevenage, is the GSK-based Co-Director of the Collaborative Doctoral Training Centre in Synthetic and Medicinal Chemistry.

These ventures will bring the total number of pledged research students as part of these collaborations to 56 by 2013, with further expansion in the areas of DMPK, Biological Sciences, and Analytical Chemistry now being planned.  In addition to the direct financial income to Strathclyde on these programmes having reached £2,074,600 to date, the in-kind contributions from GSK are estimated to be £3,931,000.

Current Areas of Research Interest

Throughout recent years, the Kerr research team have developed a portfolio of research activities that have led to contributions to knowledge and the development of new methods in a number of individual preparative fields and, in particular, within the broad area of metal-mediated processes as applied to organic synthesis and asymmetric transformations. The emerging techniques from the Kerr laboratories have also been applied in a range of total synthesis programmes.

The research work within the Kerr group has been supported, and continues to be supported, by the EPSRC, private funding bodies (such as the Carnegie Trust, the Nuffield Foundation, and the C. K. Marr Trust), and a range of industrial companies; past and present industrial collaborators include GlaxoWellcome/GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, MerckSharp&Dohme, Sanofi-Synthelabo, The British Technology Group, Lancaster Synthesis Ltd., Celltech-Chiroscience, and Organon/Schering-Plough.

Over the past 20 years the Kerr group have made contributions in:

Organomagnesium Chemistry

In this field of research, the Kerr team have demonstrated that asymmetric deprotonation processes are intrinsically simpler and more generally effective than with the earlier developed lithium-based bases.  The optimised levels of asymmetric induction are often better than can be achieved with the more practically demanding lithium chemistry.  Moreover, the fact that the organomagnesium processes can be performed at or near to room temperature (as opposed to the cryogenic conditions for their organolithium counterparts) provides conditions that are potentially more attractive to practical chemists, in particular within an industrial setting, where practical utility and energy considerations are of enhanced levels of importance within large scale reactions.

Organoiridium Chemistry

Here a suite of new iridium complexes has been designed and prepared and which now display remarkable levels of reactivity and selectivity in hydrogen-isotope exchange reactions with a wide variety of organic substrates.  This means that valuable iridium complexes can now be used at significantly lower loading and under notably mild reaction conditions.  These exchange reactions are of great importance to pharmaceutical industries, where labelled versions of pharmaceutical candidate compound and their metabolites are in constant demand (to understand the metabolism of potential drug species).  At the present time, the Kerr team are now attempting to deepen their mechanistic understanding of the iridium-catalysed hydrogen-isotope exchange reactions in collaboration with Dr Tell Tuttle(http://www.chem.strath.ac.uk/people/academic/tell_tuttle) of the Department of Pure and Applied Chemistry at the University of Strathclyde.

Organocobalt Chemistry

This area of research has led to the development of the Pauson-Khand reaction, in attempts to find more widely applicable methods for facilitating this preparatively important reaction, as well as improved catalyst systems.  This has also led to the development of practical surrogates for the use of ethylene to further enhance the practical effectiveness of this process.  This key cyclisation reaction has been employed in synthesis of natural products, including taylorione and cedrene.  In relation to the contributions in this area of research, Billy has recently written the invited introductory chapter within the new and internationally leading book on this field of organometallic chemistry: see, W. Kerr, In The Pauson-Khand Reaction; Scope, Variations and Applications, R. R. Torres, Ed.; J. Wiley & Sons, Chichester, 2012 Ch. 1, pp. 1-21.

Organochromium Chemistry

In this field of research, the Kerr group have invented milder and much improved methods for carrying out Dötz benzannulations.  Based on this and in addition, the improved Dötz reaction has been employed as the key stage in the synthesis of a series of target products, including the anti-malarial agent, parvaquone.  In this same area, the Kerr team have also discovered new organochromium-based methods for the syntheses of sensitive b-lactones.



  1. C–H functionalization for hydrogen isotope exchange

    Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature review

  2. Applications of hydrogen isotopes in the life sciences

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

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  1. Illicit drug analysis as a tool to combat global organised crime

    Impact: Impact - for External PortalQuality of life and safety, Economic and commerce, Professional practice, training and standards

  2. GSK advances research excellence

    Impact: Impact - for External PortalHealth and welfare - new products, guidelines and services, Professional practice, training and standards

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  1. Industrial CASE Account - University of Strathclyde 2017 | Adams, Scott

    Project: Research Studentship Case - Internally allocatedResearch Studentship CASE (Internally Allocated)

  2. Industrial Case Account 2016 | Kidd, Giorgia

    Project: Research Studentship Case - Internally allocatedResearch Studentship CASE (Internally Allocated)

  3. Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP 2016-2017 University of Strathclyde) | Queen, Adele Elizabeth

    Project: Research Studentship - Internally AllocatedResearch Studentship (Internally Allocated)

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  1. Research Group National and International Prizes and Awards

    Prize: Prize (including medals and awards)

  2. Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry

    Prize: Election to learned society

  3. ICI Fine Chemicals Young Lecturer Award

    Prize: Prize (including medals and awards)

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William Kerr

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