Taxol is a powerful and complex anti-cancer compound that was first isolated from the bark of the Pacific yew Taxus brevifolia. Although it offered huge potential as an anti-cancer agent, it experienced a long development period, attributed to by its low availability from its traditional source. Research into alternate sources and methods of production for Taxol have been crucial in meeting with demand for the drug. Three main avenues of research have resulted. Firstly, chemical syntheses of this complex diterpene consist of multiple steps and are not economically feasible due to their low yield. Developments have therefore concentrated on enhancing production in vivo. Efforts have been made to understand the enzymatic steps involved in the synthesis within the yew and innovations to produce Taxol and Taxol-like substances in high yield from cell cultures of Taxus species. An alternative stream of research focuses on endophytes as the producer of Taxol. Endophytes can be isolated from the yew tree and produce Taxol in culture. Encouraging findings with endophytes resulted in much interest in the prospect of using endophytes as the producer of Taxol and Taxol-like substances. This review also discusses patents and the future prospects of each of the main streams of production.
Keywords: Taxol, anti-cancer agents, endophyte, diterpene
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