Nature: a vital source of leads for anticancer drug development

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Over 60% of the current anticancer drugs have their origin in one way or another from natural sources. Nature continues to be the most prolific source of biologically active and diverse chemotypes, and it is becoming increasingly evident that associated microbes may often be the source of biologically active compounds originally isolated from host macro-organisms. While relatively few of the actual isolated compounds advance to become clinically effective drugs in their own right, these unique molecules may serve as models for the preparation of more efficacious analogs using chemical methodology such as total or combinatorial (parallel) synthesis, or manipulation of biosynthetic pathways. In addition, conjugation of toxic natural molecules to monoclonal antibodies or polymeric carriers specifically targeted to epitopes on tumors of interest can lead to the development of efficacious targeted therapies. The essential role played by natural products in the discovery and development of effective anticancer agents, and the importance of multidisciplinary collaboration in the generation and optimization of novel molecular leads from natural product sources is reviewed.

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