Educational Series

Clinical and Translational Oncology

, Volume 9, Issue 12, pp 767-776

First online:

Natural products as leads to anticancer drugs

  • M. GordalizaAffiliated withDepartamento de Química Farmacéutica Facultad de Farmacia, Universidad de Salamanca Email author 

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Throughout history, natural products have afforded a rich source of compounds that have found many applications in the fields of medicine, pharmacy and biology. Within the sphere of cancer, a number of important new commercialised drugs have been obtained from natural sources, by structural modification of natural compounds, or by the synthesis of new compounds, designed following a natural compound as model. The search for improved cytotoxic agents continues to be an important line in the discovery of modern anticancer drugs. The huge structural diversity of natural compounds and their bioactivity potential have meant that several products isolated from plants, marine flora and microorganisms can serve as “lead” compounds for improvement of their therapeutic potential by molecular modification. Additionally, semisynthesis processes of new compounds, obtained by molecular modification of the functional groups of lead compounds, are able to generate structural analogues with greater pharmacological activity and with fewer side effects. These processes, complemented with high-throughput screening protocols, combinatorial chemistry, computational chemistry and bioinformatics are able to afford compounds that are far more efficient than those currently used in clinical practice. Combinatorial biosynthesis is also applied for the modification of natural microbial products. Likewise, advances in genomics and the advent of biotechnology have improved both the discovery and production of new natural compounds.

Key words

Natural lead compound Anticancer Camptothecin Podophyllotoxin Taxol Vinblastine