Compound Challenge

You are invited to provide an original synthesis protocol for a small molecule.

The Challenge

Since 2018, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany hosts the Compound Challenge, a competition to identify the best submitted synthetic route for a given small molecule as determined by:

  • number of synthesis steps
  • obtained yield
  • achieved purity
  • feasibility of subsequent steps not performed

Anyone from around the world can register for the competition. After the registration deadline, all those registered for the challenge receive the structure of a small molecule and submit their proposed synthesis route within 96 hrs. All the submitted routes are anonymized, and all registered participants are assigned to evaluate part of these anonymized routes in a randomized manner. Based on the participants evaluation, we then select the top 10 best evaluated routes to participate in the synthesis phase of the challenge. The selected routes will be tested in a wet lab and the participants with the best route, as determined by the above criteria, wins a prize of EUR 10,000.

Registration for the 4th compound challenge starts January 24 - April 30 2022.

The 1st place winner of the 4th Compound Challenge will earn a 6 month subscription to SYNTHIA at no charge for their entire chemistry department (including 2 special training sessions during this period to support students and faculty with challenging questions they may have). The 2nd place winner of the 4th Compound Challenge will earn a 3-month free subscription for their research group (not the entire department) with 1 complementary training and support session.

Find out more

Who can participate?

Anyone from around the world may participate, as an individual or in a team where not prohibited by local or country law. Individuals or teams may choose to opt-out of receiving the prize money if required to do so by their organization. This challenge is not open to Health Care Professionals.

How does it work?

  • Application by completing the online registration form and accepting terms and conditions. 
  • Submit your own (single applicant) or your team’s (team application) completed registration by filling out the online registration form on 
  • We provide the structure of a small molecule to all registered participants. 
  • Participants have 96 hrs. to generate and submit a synthesis route according to the instructions provided by us. 
  • All obtained synthesis routes are anonymized, and each participant is assigned to evaluate several of these anonymized routes.
  • Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany selects the top 10 best evaluated routes, to be tested in an actual chemical synthesis with a CRO of our choice. 
  • The winner, based on the above criteria, receives a EUR 10,000 prize.

Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany does not attempt to commercialize any of the submitted synthetic routes.

The 2021 winners of the 3rd Compound Challenge are Timothy Newhouse, Pengpeng Zhang, Ali Bodnar, Isaiah Aguilar, Jungmin Eun, Yannan Liu, Yingchuan Zhu, Jaehoo Lee, Rachel Cantrell - team from Yale University and Bryan Tambosco, Jonathan Moore, Darren Lee, Marcos Veguillas Hernando, Rodolfo Teixeira, Toby Waldron Clarke, James Herron, Adam Lee - team from the University of Nottingham.

The 2020 winners of our second compound challenge are Soumitra Athavale - from the California Institute of Technology and Florian Berger, Johannes Lehmann, Romain Melot, Paola Caramenti, Zhanchao Meng, Stephan Hess, Sorin-Claudiu Rosca, Laura Salacz, Marcos Mijangos Linares, Hector Yiannakas - team from the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung. Both teams utilized a unique Diels-Alder approach to the Vetispirane-Type Sesquiterpenoid Melongenaterpenes A.

The 2018 winners of our first Compound Challenge are Bart Herle, Fabio Caló, Julius Hillenbrand, Tobias Biberger, Sebastian Peil, Lorenz E. Löffler, Felix Anderl, and Marc Heinrich - team from the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung and Steven Bennett, Adam Noble, Jingjing Wu, Raffael Schrof, Felix Pape, James Fordham, and Rory Mykura - team from University of Bristol