Anticancer agents from natural products

Anticancer agents from natural products 

Gordon M Cragg, David G I Kingston and David J Newman (eds) 
Boca Raton, Florida, US: CRC Press | 2005 | 577 pp | ?99.00 (HB) | ISBN 0849318637 

Reviewed by  Dennis Rouvray

Somewhat surprisingly, over 60 per cent of the pharmaceutical drugs currently in use have their origins in natural products. Classic examples include morphine for pain relief, quinine for malaria, and digitoxin for cardiac disorders. Cancer chemotherapy similarly relies on an extensive range of natural products and their number is steadily increasing. One case in point is the diterpenoid taxol which was first derived from the bark of the yew tree Taxus brevifolia in 1962. Since then this remarkable substance has yielded two approved drugs - for breast and ovarian cancer - as well as some 33 other lead structures now undergoing clinical evaluation.  

New discoveries, however, are being made not only in the plant kingdom but also in many other less well known sources, such as algae, fungi, microbes and marine organisms. These sources can even sometimes interact with one another to generate valuable new lead structures. The marine mollusc Dolabella auricularia, for instance, ingests cyanobacteria which it transforms into a rich variety of dolastatin peptides that have so far been the source of some 20 anticancer agents of impressive potency. 

The wealth of new cancer drugs emanating from natural sources has created a mountain of literature on the subject and has seen many researchers scrambling to stay abreast. The last comprehensive review of this field, Cassady and Douros’ Anticancer agents based on natural product models, was published in 1980, so this new compendium edited by Cragg, Kingston and Newman is timely and to be warmly welcomed. The 26 chapters it contains - contributed to by 48 authors - offer us a mine of information on, and fresh insights into, natural anticancer medications developed up to the end of 2002.  

The book brings home to us not only the amazing chemical complexity of the natural world but also the vast reservoir of potential new healing agents that yet remain to be tapped.  

This impressive work, which maintains a uniformly high standard throughout, will be of major benefit to a wide readership of biochemists, drug designers, pharmacologists, natural products chemists, and clinical oncologists. It seems likely that it will remain the definitive work in its genre for many years to come.