National Cancer Institute


Taxol® (NSC 125973)

Paclitaxel, the most well-known natural-source cancer drug in the United States, is derived from the bark of the Pacific yew tree (Taxus brevifolia) and is used in the treatment of breast, lung, and ovarian cancer, as well as Kaposi's sarcoma

1962 Samples of the Pacific yew's bark were first collected in 1962 by researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) who were under contract to NCI to find natural products that might cure cancer. Two years later, Dr. Monroe E. Wall, Dr. Mansukh Wani, and colleagues at the Research Triangle Institute's Natural Product Laboratory in Research Triangle Park, NC, discovered that extracts from this bark contained cytotoxic activity. In 1965, additional samples of bark were collected and sent to Dr. Wall's group for identification and purification of the extract's most active component. It took the researchers at the Research Triangle Institute several years to isolate paclitaxel in its pure form, but once they did, NCI assigned the compound an NSC number and testing began to identify paclitaxel's biological action.

1977 It was not until 1977, when NCI was able to confirm antitumor activity in the mouse melanoma B16 model, that paclitaxel, also known by its trade name, Taxol, was selected as a candidate for clinical development. Activity was also observed in animal models against MX-1 mammary, LX-1 lung, and CX-1 colon tumors.

1984 In 1984, NCI began phase I clinical trials of Taxol against a number of cancer types. Demand for Taxol spiked in 1989 after investigators at Johns Hopkins reported that the drug produced partial or complete responses in 30% of patients with advanced ovarian cancer.4

1992–present In December 1992, the FDA approved Taxol for the treatment for ovarian cancer. Researchers also tested the effectiveness of Taxol as a treatment for advanced breast cancer. Subsequent clinical trials found that the drug was effective against this disease, and, in 1994, the FDA approved Taxol for use against breast cancer.4

Clinical trials to test Taxol against other types of cancer and in combination with other therapies are currently in progress.

To date, Taxol is the best-selling cancer drug ever manufactured. Annual sales of the drug peaked in 2000, reaching $1.6 billion.5

1 Kreeger KY. Discovering How Taxol Works. Bryn Mawr S&T July 2001.

2 Harvard Medical School. Cancer Researcher Susan Band Horwitz, PhD Wins Warren Alpert Foundation Prize for Work Developing Taxol. Press Release.

3 American Society of Pharmacognosy. The Story of Taxol.

4 University of Maryland Medical Center. About Taxol.

5 Wikipedia. Paclitaxel.




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