A schematic shows a trioxacarcin C molecule, whose structure was revealed for
the first time through a new process developed by the Rice lab of synthetic organic
chemist K.C. Nicolaou. Trioxacarcins are found in bacteria but synthetic versions are
needed to study them for their potential as medications. Trioxacarcins have anti-cancer
properties. (Credit: Nicolaou Group/Rice University)
(March 11, 2016) Trioxacarcin molecules bind to the DNA of targeted cells and prevent them from replicating
A team led by Rice University synthetic organic chemist K.C. Nicolaou has developed a new process for the synthesis of a series of potent anti-cancer agents originally found in bacteria.
The Nicolaou lab finds ways to replicate rare, naturally occurring compounds in larger amounts so they can be studied by biologists and clinicians as potential new medications. It also seeks to fine-tune the molecular structures of these compounds through analog design and synthesis to improve their disease-fighting properties and lessen their side effects.
Such is the case with their synthesis of trioxacarcins, reported this month in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
“Not only does this synthesis render these valuable molecules readily available for biological investigation, but it also allows the previously unknown full structural elucidation of one of them,” Nicolaou said. “The newly developed synthetic technologies will allow us to construct variations for biological evaluation as part of a program to optimize their pharmacological profiles.”
At present, there are no drugs based on trioxacarcins, which damage DNA through a novel mechanism, Nicolaou said.
Trioxacarcins were discovered in the fermentation broth of the bacterial strain Streptomyces bottropensis. They disrupt the replication of cancer cells by binding and chemically modifying their genetic material.
“These molecules are endowed with powerful anti-tumor properties,” Nicolaou said. “They are not as potent as shishijimicin, which we also synthesized recently, but they are more powerful than taxol, the widely used anti-cancer drug. Our objective is to make it more powerful through fine-tuning its structure.”