Advances in cancer therapy with plant based natural products

Curr Med Chem. 2001 Oct;8(12):1467-86. doi: 10.2174/0929867013372094.


Natural Products have long been a fertile source of cure for cancer, which is projected to become the major causes of death in this century. However, there is a continuing need for development of new anticancer drugs, drug combinations and chemotherapy strategies, by methodical and scientific exploration of enormous pool of synthetic, biological and natural products. There are at least 250,000 species of plants out of which more than one thousand plants have been found to possess significant anticancer properties. While many molecules obtained from nature have shown wonders, there are a huge number of molecules that still either remains to be trapped or studied in details by the medicinal chemists. The article reviews many such structures and their related chemistry along with the recent advances in understanding mechanism of action and structure-function relationships of nature derived anti-cancer agents at the molecular, cellular and physiological levels. Taxol, one of the most outstanding agents, has been found beneficial in treatment of refractory ovarian, breast and other cancers. Another prominent molecule includes Podophyllotoxin. Synthetic modification of this molecule led to the development of Etoposide, known to be effective for small cell cancers of the lungs and testes. Camptothecin isolated from Camptotheca acuminata also have been extensively studied. Other important molecules discussed include Vincristine, Vinblastine, Colchicine, Ellipticine and Lepachol along with Flavopiridol, a semi-synthetic analogue of the chromone alkaloid Rohitukine from India, a pyridoindole alkaloid from leaves of Ochrosia species and many more. The review also deals with the lesser-known plants of sub-Himalayan region.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Phytotherapy*
  • Plant Preparations / therapeutic use*
  • Plants, Medicinal / chemistry*


  • Plant Preparations