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Univ Lab, Spin-Off Developing Drug from Turmeric

Sliced turmeric roots

Sliced turmeric roots (Bames24, Wikimedia Commons)

28 October 2015. A university biochemistry lab and spin-off enterprise developing drugs from plants are collaborating on a process for extracting a key ingredient for an anti-inflammatory compound from the common spice turmeric. The project, bringing together the lab of biochemistry professor David Gang at Washington State University and Botanisol LLC in Scottsdale, Arizona, is funded by a $225,000 grant from National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, a part of National Institutes of Health. The first phase of the project, with $149,000 in funding for one year, is underway.

The initiative aims to devise an efficient process for extracting turmeric anti-inflammatory lipophilic compound x, or TAI-LCx, a small molecule compound derived from turmeric, a spice in Indian cooking giving curries their distinctive flavor. Turmeric is the basis for anti-inflammatory folk remedies found in Indian and Chinese cultures going back as far as 4,000 years.

Botanisol was founded in 2012 to commercialize TAI-LCx, licensed from University of Arizona, where the initial research was done on the compound. In the lab, TAI-LCx was found effective acting against cell signaling proteins and prostaglandin, a hormone-like chemical in the body that stimulate inflammation in diseases like arthritis. While many anti-inflammatory drugs are already on the market — from simple aspirin and ibuprofen to biologics like Humira or Enbrel — they generally work by blocking cyclooxygenase or Cox enzymes that promote inflammation, but cause side-effects such as stomach irritation and more serious gastrointestinal problems in many individuals.

TAI-LCx, says the company, works on different signaling pathways than Cox inhibitors, making it safer for many people that cannot take current anti-inflammatory drugs. To be commercially viable, however, the company needs to develop a more economical and environmentally-friendly process for extracting the compound from turmeric that can be expanded to commercial scale.

The current process for extracting TAI-LCx in the lab uses organic solvents. A more efficient and solvent-free method, known as supercritical fluid extraction, uses combinations of temperature and pressure with carbon dioxide to separate TAI-LCx from turmeric. The partnership between Botanisol and Washington State will explore the feasibility of supercritical fluid extraction to extract and generate a purified compound.

The collaboration also plans to better identify and understand the components of TAI-LCx, needed for further drug development. David Gang, who is also chief scientist at Botanisol, will use research facilities at Washington State for these tasks, particularly the university’s Murdock Metabolomics Laboratory and Tissue Imaging and Proteomics Laboratory. “What we know about TAI-LCx is very encouraging,” says Gang in a university statement. “With this grant, we’ll learn more about its structure and effect on different inflammatory pathways.”

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