FDA approves cancer drug with origins in Princeton lab

By Steven Schultz

Princeton NJ -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a groundbreaking new cancer drug that was developed by Eli Lilly and Co. and had its origins in a chemistry laboratory at Princeton.

Edward C. Taylor

Edward C. Taylor

The FDA announced Feb. 5 that it approved the drug Alimta for use in combination with the drug cisplatin for the treatment of a deadly form of cancer that often is caused by asbestos exposure. The Alimta combination is the first treatment approved specifically for malignant pleural mesothelioma. Alimta also has shown promise in treating a wide range of other tumors.

The discovery of the drug arose out of collaboration between Lilly and Edward C. Taylor, who is Princeton's A. Barton Hepburn Professor of Organic Chemistry Emeritus. Taylor's interest in cancer drugs dates to 1946 when he became fascinated with the structure of chemical compounds that turned out to be important for processing folic acid in living organisms.

"I was simply curious about how these essential natural compounds worked," said Taylor. In the 1980s, Taylor began a long-term collaboration with scientists at Lilly that resulted in several potential drugs. The compound that became Alimta was conceived and synthesized in Taylor's lab in 1989. To read a Weekly Bulletin article from last year about the process, visit <web page>.

Lilly licensed rights to the drug from Princeton and conducted more than a decade of additional development and clinical trials. "It was an extraordinarily successful and harmonious collaboration," Taylor said. "I am very happy that it has resulted in a drug that looks like it will help very many people."

John Ritter, director of Princeton's Office of Technology Licensing, said, "I can't think of a more fruitful example of a university-industry collaboration than this one, given the fact that its result is a product that will help people stricken with an insidious form of cancer."


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