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Partnership to Discover Cancer Drugs from Natural Products

Chemotherapy (National Institutes of Health)

(National Institutes of Health)

University of Mississippi’s National Center for Natural Products Research (NCNPR) in Oxford has formed a partnership to search and test for cancer drugs with the university’s Medical Center Cancer Institute in Jackson. Under the agreement, NCNPR will develop anti-cancer compounds for further development and testing by the Cancer Institute.

At the NCNPR, researchers collect plants and other natural products, create extracts, and screen them for activity against specified targets. Cancer research has identified many genes and gene mutations responsible for causing cancer, which become the targets for drug developers.

David Pasco, assistant director of NCNPR says, “There are several hundred genes identified, but they all belong to about 12 different signal-transduction pathways.” Blocking those pathways with specially designed drugs can keep the genes from switching on or off, Pasco adds.

Pasco and his team have recently screened some 30 plant extracts  used in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine, and some with proven anti-cancer properties. About 25 extracts showed activity on the majority of those dozen signaling pathways.

Cancer Institute director Lucio Miele says “Natural products are a rich source of drug discovery and have yielded some of the most potent drugs we still use, the best example being Taxol.” Taxol (Paclitaxel) is a chemotherapy drug in which NCNPR was involved during its development.

The combinations of compounds developed by NCNPR become candidates that will be sent to the Cancer Institute labs in Jackson for testing on various cancer cell lines, Miele said. Once these early lab tests show promise, researchers would test the drugs on tumors in animals, usually mice or rats. The next phase would take candidate drugs to carefully regulated clinical trials administered by the Cancer Institute.

Read more: U.K. Partnership to Test Cancer Drug Combinations

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