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Researchers use bacteria to make anti-cancer drugs

By Wai Lang Chu , 01-Nov-2006

Scientists are looking into the possibility of using bacteria to make a new library of anti-cancer compounds that are usually too difficult to create synthetically. The discovery could provide the basis for developing useful new anti-cancer drugs.

The research could be just the breakthrough the medical industry has been crying out for. Whilst many more anti-cancer drugs are in use today than ever before, nearly all of these drugs are severely limited in their use due to the dual problems of drug resistance and lack of selectivity.

The researchers from the University of Warwick have been focusing on the bacterium Streptomyces coelicolor, which can naturally produce red-coloured alkaloids called prodiginines.

A synthetic prodiginine analogue called GX15-070 is currently in phase 1 and 2 cancer treatment trials.

This group of antibiotics has stimulated much recent interest as they can be used to target and kill cancer cells.

However, analogues of other prodiginines, such as streptorubin B, could be even more powerful anti cancer tools, but they cannot currently be easily synthetically produced on a lab bench.

"This approach combines the strengths of conventional organic synthesis, with the synthetic power of biology, to assemble complex and synthetically difficult structures," said Professor Greg Challis, Chemistry Department from the University of Warwick.

"It could be particularly valuable for generating analogues of streptorubin B with all the promise that holds for the development of new anti cancer drugs."

By manipulating the enzyme content of the bacteria, Challis and his colleagues aim to produce a range of different compounds based closely on the form of streptorubin B normally formed by the bacteria.

Some of these analogues of streptorubin B could provide the basis for developing useful new anti cancer drugs.

Streptomyces coelicolor can claim the title of medicine's favourite as the bacterium, and its family members, provides most of the world's antibiotics.

Streptomyces, which is found in almost all soils, is a harmless relative of the bacteria that cause tuberculosis, leprosy and diphtheria. It is also a very productive natural factory.

Streptomyces is used to make over half of the naturally derived antibiotics in current use and produces many other pharmaceuticals, such as anti-cancer agents and immuno-suppressants a total of over 6,000 different chemical products.

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