IIT Madras Researchers identify a high-yielding alternative source for anti-cancer drug Camptothecin

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Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras have identified a sustainable and high-yielding alternative source for the anti-cancer drug Camptothecin.

This novel microbial fermentation process can be an economically-efficient method of production to fulfill the market demand at large scale.

Topotecan and Irinotecan are two widely used anticancer drugs, which are produced by using Camptothecin as the lead molecule. More than a dozen derivatives and conjugates of Camptothecin are under various stages of clinical trials for anti-cancer applications.

Camptothecin is an alkaloid isolated from the Chinese tree Camptotheca acuminata and the Indian tree Nothapodytes nimmoniana. Nearly 1,000 tons of plant material is required to extract just one ton of Camptothecin. Due to extensive overharvesting to meet the market demand both these plants are now critically endangered. The N. nimmoniana population has seen more than a 20% decline in the last decade alone.

Camptothecin, the third most in-demand alkaloid, is commercially extracted in India from the endangered plant, Nothapodytes nimmoniana. Endophytes, the microorganisms that reside within plants, are reported to have the ability to produce host-plant associated metabolites. Hence, this research aims to establish a sustainable and high Camptothecin yielding endophyte, as an alternative source for commercial production of Camptothecin.

IIT Madras Researchers have now developed an alternative method of Camptothecin production to meet the demand and conserve the natural sources. To this effect, they developed a microbial fermentation process that can be an economically efficient and sustainable method of production to fulfil the market demand at large scale.

The research was led by Dr. Smita Srivastava, Associate Professor, Department of Biotechnology, IIT Madras. This work was recently published in the reputed peer-reviewed international Journal of Scientific Reports (a Nature Research Publication).

Highlighting the applications for this research, Dr. Smita Srivastava, Associate Professor, Department of Biotechnology, IIT Madras, and the principal investigator of the study, said, “The novelty of the work lies in the fact that unlike other potential microbial strains reported, this strain has been found to show sustainable production even beyond 100 generations.”

Cancer has been a leading cause of death worldwide including in India. It is projected that by 2026, the new cancer cases in India annually would reach 0.93 million in male and 0.94 million in female patients, according to a study published in Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention.

Speaking about the applications of this research, Professor, Suresh Kumar Rayala, Department of Biotechnology, IIT Madras, said, “Preliminary investigations on breast cancer, lung cancer, ovarian cancer and colorectal cancer cell lines revealed that the microbial extract demonstrates a potent cytotoxic effect on lung cancer (H1299), ovarian cancer (SKOV3) and colorectal cancer (HT29; Caco-2) cell lines, comparable to the standard Camptothecin.”

Khwajah Mohinudeen, an IIT Madras PhD Research Scholar who worked on this study, said, “Researchers from the Plant Cell Bioprocessing laboratory at IIT Madras have been able to successfully isolate the highest-yielding strain of Camptothecin reported to date with sustainable production up to reactor level. In addition to isolating a novel microbial source for bioprocess development for the large scale production of Camptothecin, we have also come up with a rapid screening technique for isolation of high Camptothecin yielding microbial strains from plants.”

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