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UW-Madison scientists zero in on drugs' sweet spots

ppealing to the pharmaceutical industry. Despite the fact that 60-75 percent of drugs approved to treat infectious disease and cancer over the past 25 years are of natural origin, many companies have lost interest in developing natural products because of the complex chemistry that underpins them.

The ability to zero in on the sweet spot of drugs derived from natural products promises to help scientists specify the role of the sugar and make new drugs or enhance old ones to greater precision and effect. The series of experiments performed by Thorson's team, for example, may help researchers enhance the anti-cancer effects of digitalis and downshift its influence on the heart, thus avoiding potential detrimental effects in cancer patients.

"I think this (technique) is going to send us down some interesting mechanistic roads," Thorson notes. "Digitalis hasn't been aggressively pursued as an anti-cancer agent."

According to Thorson, the technology can be widely applied: "We've already taken this chemistry and applied it to many different drug classes. It's possible to extend it to antibiotics and antivirals. If you want to plug in a sugar and see what it does for you, this is the best way to do it."

The new technique, according to Thorson, will play a prominent role in the new UW-Madison National Cooperative Drug Discovery Group, a consortium of UW-Madison scientists seeking to develop new anti-cancer drugs from natural products. The group was recently formed with the help of a $5.6 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

The new work by Thorson was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the NCI. Thorson's collaborators include Joseph Langenhan, a former UW-Madison graduate student and post-doctoral fellow and now a chemistry professor at Seattle University; Noel R. Peters, and Professor F. Michael Hoffmann of the UW-Madison Comprehensive Cancer Center's Small Molecule Screening Facility; and Ilia A. G
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Source:University of Wisconsin-Madison


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