Perhaps not a cure but certainly another critical tool in the anticancer armamentarium.
If you’ve ever read our introduction to the left in my profile as to why this blog is called Terra Sigillata, you’d know that the first trademarked drug was dirt itself (or soil to be exact). Terra Sigillata was a special fatty clay harvested from the Greek isle of Lemnos and then punched into planchets with a special seal. Because it contained kaolin, a component of Kaopectate, it was useful for treating gastrointestinal disorders, and its high mineral content was useful for treating deficiencies that were common in the day (around 500 B.C.).
Well, the soil has given us a new compound whose semi-synthetic derivative is about to be reviewed for approval by the US FDA’s Oncological Drugs Advisory Committee (ODAC).
The drug is called ixabepilone (ix-uh-BEP-i-lone) and is derived from a class of compounds called epothilones. Epothilones were first isolated from a soil-dwelling bacterium called Sorangium cellulosum (a myxobacterium for those interested). The beauty of epothilones is two-fold: they stabilize the microtubules of cancer cells much like other breast cancer drugs such as Taxol/paclitaxel or Taxotere/docetaxel; however, they are more potent than these “taxanes” and still kill breast cancer cells that have evolved to develop resistance to taxanes.
So, in women with breast cancer for whom Taxol or Taxotere no longer works, ixabepilone might be another life-prolonging option. The proposed trade name by the corporate developer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, would be Ixempra. (For basic science and translational oncology readers, the compound has also been known in the literature as BMS 247550).
The Health Blog of the Wall Street Journal has a little more on the business side of this remarkable class of compounds.
Let it suffice to say that those of us in academic natural product research would be tickled to see ixabepilone approved.