The Meat Grinder Of Drug Discovery: A Photo Tour of NCI’s Natural Products Repository
Rare is the chemist whose tools of the trade include a meat grinder and a band saw. But then, the Developmental Therapeutics Program's Natural Products Repository and Support Group at the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Maryland is no ordinary operation.
Researchers at NCI are combing nature for potential anticancer compounds. Over 75,000 specimens, a mix of dried plants and frozen marine organisms, have made their way to Frederick from Vietnam, Palau, and other far-flung locales to be tested for biological activity.
Kirk Gustafson, head of the natural products chemistry group at NCI's Molecular Targets Laboratory, was kind enough to show me around. After learning about how natural products were collected in times past for my story this week on a new biodiversity treaty, I wanted to visit NCI's repository.
My conversations at Frederick often turned to drug discovery. It's clearly a rough time for the industry, and natural products researchers will emphasize how important molecules from nature have been in the drug discovery pipelines of decades past. Derek Lowe, David Kroll and many other more knowledgeable bloggers than I have talked about drugs that are inspired by (or come directly from) nature, and the shuttering of natural products research facilities in some large pharmaceutical companies.
But the rotovaps still hum in Frederick. Their search for potential new drugs from nature is still on.
More reading: The US National Cancer Institute’s natural products repository; origins and utility, J. Environ. Monit., 2006, 8, 800
UPDATED March 1: added reference to Developmental Therapeutics Program
UPDATED March 1: updated link to biodiversity treaty story