Hidden chemistry in flowers shown to kill cancer cells
In collaboration with Sygnature Discovery, researchers at the University of Birmingham have shown that it’s possible to produce a compound with anti-cancer properties directly from feverfew – a common flowering garden plant.
The compound the team was investigating is called parthenolide and was identified by scientists as having anti-cancer properties several years ago. Although available commercially, it is extremely expensive with poor “drug-like” properties and has not progressed beyond basic research.
The study, published today in MedChemComm, was a multidisciplinary programme, drawing together researchers from Sygnature Discovery, the University’s Institute of Cancer and Genomic Studies and the School of Chemistry. The University of Birmingham’s Winterbourne Botanic Garden oversaw the cultivation of the plants in sufficient volume for the drug screen to take place.
It was initiated by Dr Angelo Agathanggelou, of the Institute of Cancer and Genomic Studies, who is investigating new ways to treat chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), a type of cancer which typically affects older people.
Dr Agathanggelou explains: “There are several effective treatments for CLL, but after a time the disease in some patients becomes resistant. We were interested in finding out more about the potential of parthenolide. With expertise from colleagues in the School of Chemistry we’ve been able to demonstrate that this compound shows real promise and could provide alternative treatment options for CLL patients.”
Professor John Fossey, of the University’s School of Chemistry, says: “This research is important not only because we have shown a way of producing parthenolide that could make it much more accessible to researchers, but also because we’ve been able to improve its “drug-like” properties to kill cancer cells. It’s a clear demonstration that parthenolide has the potential to progress from the flowerbed into the clinic.”
Read the study here:
Li et al (2019). ‘Derivatisation of parthenolide to address chemoresistant chronic lymphocytic leukaemia’. MedChemComm.