Extensive structure-activity studies done with Taxol have identified the side chain at C-13 as one of the requirements for biological activity. Baccatin III, an analogue of Taxol lacking the C-13 side chain, has none of the biological characteristics of Taxol. Since 2-m-azido Taxol, a Taxol derivative with a m-azido substituent in the C-2 benzoyl ring, has greater activity than Taxol, we questioned whether 2-m-azido baccatin III might be active. 2-m-Azido baccatin III inhibited the proliferation of human cancer cells at nanomolar concentrations, blocked cells at mitosis, and reorganized the interphase microtubules into distinct bundles, a typical morphological change induced by Taxol. In contrast to 2-m-azido baccatin III, 2-p-azido baccatin III was similar to baccatin III, having no Taxol-like activity, further indicating the specificity and significance of the 2-meta position substituent. Molecular modeling studies done with the C-2 benzoyl ring of Taxol indicated that it fits into a pocket formed by His227 and Asp224 on beta-tubulin and that the 2-m-azido, in contrast to the 2-p-azido substituent, is capable of enhancing the interaction between the benzoyl group and the side chain of Asp224. The observation that the C-13 side chain is not an absolute requirement for biological activity in a taxane molecule has enabled the development of a new common pharmacophore model between Taxol and the epothilones.