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Researchers engineer microbes for low-cost production of anti-cancer drug, Taxol
Date:9/30/2010

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- MIT researchers and collaborators from Tufts University have now engineered E. coli bacteria to produce large quantities of a critical compound that is a precursor to the cancer drug Taxol, originally isolated from the bark of the Pacific yew tree. The tree's bacteria can produce 1,000 times more of the precursor, known as taxadiene, than any other engineered microbial strain.

The technique, described in the Oct. 1 issue of Science, could bring down the manufacturing costs of Taxol and also help scientists discover potential new drugs for cancer and other diseases such as hypertension and Alzheimer's, said Gregory Stephanopoulos, who led the team of MIT and Tufts researchers and is one of the senior authors of the paper.

"If you can make Taxol a lot cheaper, that's good, but what really gets people excited is the prospect of using our platform to discover other therapeutic compounds in an era of declining new pharmaceutical products and rapidly escalating costs for drug development," said Stephanopoulos, the W.H. Dow Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT.

Taxol, also known as paclitaxel, is a powerful cell-division inhibitor commonly used to treat ovarian, lung and breast cancers. It is also very expensive about $10,000 per dose, although the cost of manufacturing that dose is only a few hundred dollars. (Patients usually receive one dose.)

Two to four Pacific yew trees are required to obtain enough Taxol to treat one patient, so in the 1990s, bioengineers came up with a way to produce it in the lab from cultured plant cells, or by extracting key intermediates from plant material like the needles of the decorative yew. These methods generate enough material for patients, but do not produce sufficient quantities for synthesizing variants that may be far more potent for treating cancer and other diseases. Organic chemists have succeeded in synthesizing Taxol in the lab, but these methods involv
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Contact: Jennifer Hirsch
jfhirsch@mit.edu
617-253-1682
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert

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