Compound Challenge

A world-wide retrosynthesis competition to design the best synthetic route for a target molecule. Participants are given free access to Synthia Lite during the challenge period.

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, but not limited to

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

The competition is open to scientists of all career levels from around the world. After a 48 hour sprint to develop a synthetic route, in which all teams are given access to SYNTHIA™ to utilize during the competition, the routes undergo review to determine the top routes which will be tested in a wet lab. The team with the best route wins a prize of EUR 10,000. 

For the 5th Compound Challenge:

  • All participants will have access to Synthia™.
  • The teams will have the ability to update their routes once their route hits a point of failure. This will allow for an experience that more emulates the process in lab.
  • Participation certificates will be provided to the top 20 teams.
  • Registration for the 5th compound challenge is open September 6th, 2023 – October 27th, 2023.

Registration for the 5th Compound Challenge is now closed.

During the competition, all participants will have access to SYNTHIA™. The 1st place winner will earn a 6-month free subscription to SYNTHIA™ for their organization. The 2nd place winner will earn a 3-month free subscription for their research group.

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?

  • Submit your own (single applicant) or your team's (team application) completed registration by filling out the online registration form available online here.
  • One week before the molecule release, all participants will receive access to Synthia as well as informational videos to allow familiarization with the program.
  • We provide the structure of a small molecule to all registered participants on the same date and time.
  • The evaluation rubric to be used in the peer review will be released at the same time as the challenge molecule.
  • Participants have 48 hrs. to generate and submit the synthetic route to the platform.
  • All obtained synthesis routes are anonymized, and each participant is assigned to evaluate several of these anonymized routes. This determines the top 50 routes.
  • We select the top 3 best evaluated routes, using an internally appointed jury, to be tested in an actual chemical synthesis with a contract research organisation (CRO) of our choice.
  • Upon all routes reaching a point of failure, finalists are given a chance to review their route with information obtained from the CRO.
  • The final winner will be selected by evaluating the chemical synthesis based on, but not limited to, number of successful synthesis steps, the obtained yield, the achieved purity, as well as the feasibility of subsequent steps not performed.
  • Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany does not attempt to commercialize any of the submitted synthetic routes.

The 2023 winners of the 4th Compound Challenge are Philipp Klahn, Oscar Nilsson, Aishi Chakrabarti, Anna Paraskevi, Antonios Drakopoulos, Charity Ganskow, Claire Jimidar, Carlos Benitez, Ellymay Goossens, Ganesh Ghotekar, Ganesh Shinde, Morten Grötli, Mervic D. Kagho, University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

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

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