"At a guess, I'd say that rasfonin itself will not be the final compound that might come to market," says Boeckman. "But we need to figure out how it works, how it triggers the cancer cell to shut itself down. The key is to find exactly what buttons rasfonin is pushing, and then figure out if there's a way we can safely and more simply push those same buttons. But we couldn't do that until we have enough to test."
Even Boeckman's simplified process is notably complex, employing sophisticated organic reactions. Instead of the original method's 23 steps, Boeckman's has just 16--but finding them took five years of his team's hard work, skill and intuition.
Boeckman's paper, published in the Aug. 30 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, outlines the sequence of steps showing how Boeckman's group inserted, removed, or altered the three-dimensional and chemical structure of their compound until they produced complete rasfonin. Diagrams of the complete process are available on the Web at pubs.acs.org.
"Very soon, researchers should be able to scale up this process rather easily to whatever volume they need," says Boeckman. "It may be a long road to a possible treatment, but at least we're now past the first hurdle."