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Chemotherapy’s roots in nature

The plant kingdom has been a source of clinical anticancer agents for decades. In fact, the NationalCancer Institute (NCI) has screened approximately35,000 plant species to date for potential anticancer activities.[1] Naturally derived compounds attack cancer cells during various phases of division.[2] Did you know that some of today’s well-known chemotherapies started as plant-based discoveries?

  1. Taxanes—derived from the bark of the Pacific Yew tree, Taxus brevifolia, paclitaxel (Taxol) and docetaxel (Taxotere) are antimicrotubule agents for the treatment of breast, ovarian, pancreatic, and non-small cell lung cancer.[3]
  2. Vinca alkaloids—obtained from the Madagascar periwinkle plant, Catharanthus roseus, vinblastine (VBL), vinorelbine (VRL) vincristine, and vindesine (VDS) are the four major alkaloids in clinical use. These are also microtubule disrupters, and they’ve been used to fight breast, bone and blood cancers.[4]
  3. Camptothecin—extracted from the bark of the Chinese “Happy Tree,” Camptotheca acuminata, this topoisomerase inhibitor has been used in antitumor activity.[5]
  4. Podophyllotoxins—first produced from a near-extinct Indian mayapple plant, Podophyllum emodi, these compounds and derivatives such as etoposide (Etopophos) are another class of topoisomerase inhibitors used to treat small-cell lung, blood, and testicular cancers.[6]
  5. Anthracyclines—from the soil fungus Streptomyces, antibiotics such as doxorubicin (rubex) is an intercalating DNA agent with antitumor properties used in the treatment of breast and ovarian carcinomas.[7]


Chemotherapy’s roots in nature