Researchers at IIT-Madras have identified a sustainable and high-yield alternative source for the cancer drug camptothecin. This novel microbial fermentation process can be an economically efficient production method to meet market demand on a large scale.
Topotecan and irinotecan are two widely used cancer drugs that are made using camptothecin as the lead molecule. More than a dozen derivatives of camptothecin are in various stages of clinical trials for use against cancer.
The “Camptothecin” molecule is an alkaloid that was isolated from the Chinese tree Camptotheca acuminata and the Indian tree Nothapodytes nimmoniana.
It takes at least 1,000 tons of plant material to extract just one ton of camptothecin, said Dr. Smita Shrivastava, Associate Professor in the Department of Biotechnology at IIT Madras, told The Indian Express. However, due to the extensive over-harvest to meet market demand, these two plants are now at great risk. Nimmoniana’s population has declined by more than 20 percent in the past decade alone, she added.
IIT Madras researchers have now developed an alternative method of making camptothecin to meet demand and conserve natural sources.
The research was conducted by Dr. Srivastava and recently published in the International Journal of Scientific Reports (a natural science publication).
Dr. Highlighting the applications of this research, Srivastava said, “The novelty of the work lies in the fact that, unlike other potential microbial strains, this strain has been found to be sustainably produced for over 100 generations. It is now planned to use the isolated novel strain for the development of a sustainable bioprocess based on microbial fermentation for the in vitro production of camptothecin on a large scale, preferably in cooperation with interested industrial partners. “
Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, including India. According to a study published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention, 0.93 million new cases of cancer will occur in male and 0.94 million in female patients annually in India by 2026.