Ready for a comeback of natural products in oncology

Biochem Pharmacol. 2009 May 1;77(9):1447-57. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2008.12.013. Epub 2008 Dec 31.


Since the late 1990s and the rapid expansion of monoclonal antibodies and synthetic protein kinase inhibitors in oncology, anticancer natural products fell out of fashion with the pharmaceutical industry. But in 2007 with the approval of three new drugs derived from natural products, the emergence of promising antitumor compounds from microorganisms (e.g. alvespimycin, salinosporamide) and the growing importance of new formulations of known natural product-derived drugs (nanoparticle formulations, oral forms), we are witnessing a new wave for natural products in oncology. The recent approval of the microtubule-targeted epothilone derivative ixabepilone (Ixempra), the DNA-alkylating marine alkaloid trabectedin (Yondelis) and the inhibitor of mTOR protein kinase temsirolimus (Torisel) is emblematic of the evolution of the field which combines the long established finding of conventional cytotoxic agents and the emergence of molecularly targeted therapeutics. These three examples also illustrate the increasing importance of microbial sources for the discovery of medically useful natural products. The contribution of innovative biological targets is also highlighted here, with references to proteasome inhibitors and novel approaches such as manipulation of mRNA splicing. Altogether, these observations plead for the return of natural products in oncology.

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / isolation & purification
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Biological Products / isolation & purification
  • Biological Products / pharmacology
  • Biological Products / therapeutic use*
  • Dioxoles / isolation & purification
  • Dioxoles / pharmacology
  • Dioxoles / therapeutic use
  • Epothilones / isolation & purification
  • Epothilones / pharmacology
  • Epothilones / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Sirolimus / analogs & derivatives
  • Sirolimus / isolation & purification
  • Sirolimus / pharmacology
  • Sirolimus / therapeutic use
  • Tetrahydroisoquinolines / isolation & purification
  • Tetrahydroisoquinolines / pharmacology
  • Tetrahydroisoquinolines / therapeutic use
  • Trabectedin


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Biological Products
  • Dioxoles
  • Epothilones
  • Tetrahydroisoquinolines
  • temsirolimus
  • Trabectedin
  • ixabepilone
  • Sirolimus