LICENSES ANTICANCER AGENT FOR MELANOMA
The University of Illinois at Chicago has licensed the worldwide rights to develop betulinic acid, a compound that in animal tests has shown activity against malignant melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer, to Advanced Life Sciences, Lemont, Ill.
A UIC research team discovered the compound's therapeutic properties as part of a National Collaborative Drug Discovery Group supported by the National Cancer Institute. The UIC team systematically studies the world's plants and other natural sources for their potential to treat cancer.The researchers originally extracted the compound from the stem bark of a plant found in Zimbabwe. It showed promise in early tests, so researchers isolated the active agent and realized that it was more plentiful and accessible in birch bark.
The researchers have shown that betulinic acid kills melanoma cells in tissue culture through apoptosis (a process whereby cells program themselves to die) and halts the growth of human melanoma carried in immunodeficient mice. Unlike traditional chemotherapy, betulinic acid has no obvious side effects.
"Based on initial preclinical data, betulinic acid appears to be a melanoma-specific, relatively nontoxic, naturally occurring agent that will be of considerable use in the management of metastatic melanoma," said Tapas K. Das Gupta, professor and head of the UIC department of surgical oncology.
The National Cancer Institute, through the Rapid Access to Intervention Development program, will help bring betulinic acid to human clinical trials. UIC researchers will conduct preclinical toxicity studies.
Advanced Life Sciences was founded in 1999 to develop potential new drug candidates in disease categories including viral diseases, cancer and inflammation. The company was formed through the spin-off of MediChem Research Inc.'s proprietary drug development portfolio.
Other compounds being developed by the company include calanolide A, which is in Phase II clinical trials for treatment against HIV, and robustaflavone, which is in preclinical development for treatment against hepatitis B. The National Cancer Institute discovered calanolide A from a plant collected by UIC College of Pharmacy researchers exploring and collecting plants in Southeast Asian forests for anticancer and anti-AIDS screening at the institute's laboratories.
The UIC College of Pharmacy's Program for Collaborative Research in the Pharmaceutical Sciences, established in 1982, enjoys an international reputation as a center for the study of biologically active natural products. The program's stature stems from its plant exploration and collection programs, focused on drug discovery, and its extraordinary success in isolating and identifying compounds from plants with high potential as candidates for drug development. The program also is well known for its Natural Products Alert electronic database, NAPRALERT.
With 25,000 students, the University of Illinois at Chicago is the largest and most diverse university in the Chicago area. UIC is home to the largest medical school in the United States and is one of only 88 national Research I universities. Located just west of Chicago's Loop, UIC is a vital part of the educational, technological and cultural fabric of the area.
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