Innovation Leads to Access
The taxadiene synthesis is more than just a midway stop on the way to Taxol. The researchers chose this molecule intentionally because, like a Christmas tree that can be decorated in any number of ways, this molecule can be modified to create a wide range of taxanes of varying complexities.
This is key, because at its heart the research isn't only about finding a better way to produce Taxol, even though the group is working toward that goal. The current commercial Taxol production method, which involves culturing cells from the yew tree, is more economical than any new synthesis is likely to be.
Instead, Baran and his team are aiming to understand the processes used in nature to produce the compound, which are many times more efficient than those used by scientists to date. "It's my opinion that when there's a huge discrepancy between the efficiency of nature and humans, in the space between, there's innovation."
More specifically, Baran believes that while developing an efficient synthesis for Taxol, they will gain a fundamentally improved understanding of the chemistry involved and develop more widely applicable techniques. Such innovation could allow production of a whole range of taxanes currently inaccessible for drug discovery research either because the quantities researchers can produce are vanishingly small, or because they can't produce them at all. Control of the taxane oxidation process therefore offers the potential for discovering new and important drugs, perhaps even one or more that is better at fighting specific cancers than Taxol.
Establishing the remaining steps between taxadiene and Taxol or other more complex taxanes remains a challenging task that Baran estimates will take years. "Nature has a choreography in the way she de
|Contact: Mika Ono|
Scripps Research Institute