Drug made from toxic weed kills cancer

JOHNS HOPKINS (US) — An experimental drug derived from a poisonous weed can travel harmlessly through the bloodstream until it detects cancer cells and kills them.

In laboratory studies, the researchers say, a three-day course of the drug G202 shrunk human prostate tumors grown in mice by an average of 50 percent within 30 days. It far outperformed docetaxel, a chemotherapy drug now used against prostate cancer, and was also highly effective against animal models of human breast cancer, kidney cancer, and bladder cancer.

The study by scientists at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center and from Denmark was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

G202 is derived from Thapsia garganica, a weed that grows in the Mediterranean region. The plant makes a product—dubbed thapsigargin—that since the time of ancient Greece has been known to be toxic to animals. In Arab caravans, the plant was known as the “death carrot” because it would kill camels that ate it, the researchers noted.

“Our goal was to try to re-engineer this very toxic natural plant product into a drug we might use to treat human cancer,” says lead study author Samuel Denmeade, professor of oncology, urology, and pharmacology and molecular sciences at Johns Hopkins. “We achieved this by creating a format that requires modification by cells to release the active drug.”

By disassembling thapsigargin and chemically modifying it, the researchers created a form that Denmeade likens to a hand grenade with the pin in. The drug can be injected and travel through the bloodstream without harming healthy blood vessels and tissues.

But when G202 finds cancer tumors, a protein released by the tumors (called prostate-specific membrane antigen), in effect “pulls the pin.” That releases cell-killing agents from the drug into the tumor and the blood vessels that feed it, as well as to other cells in the vicinity. Specifically, G202 blocks the function of another protein—the SERCA pump—that is necessary for cell survival, the researchers report.

“The exciting thing is that the cancer itself is activating its own demise,” says senior study author John Isaacs, professor of oncology, urology, and chemical and biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins.

Based on their laboratory results, Johns Hopkins physicians have performed a phase I clinical trial to assess safety of the drug and have treated 29 patients with advanced cancer. In addition to Johns Hopkins, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Texas-San Antonio are participating in the trial. A phase II trial to test the drug in patients with prostate cancer and liver cancer is planned.

Because G202 targets the SERCA pump, which all cells need to stay alive, researchers say it will be difficult for tumor cells to become resistant to the drug.

The study’s co-authors are from Johns Hopkins, the Danish National Research Foundation, Aarhus University, and the University of Copenhagen, and GenSpera Inc.

The work was supported by the Department of Defense Prostate Cancer Research Program, the Prostate Cancer Foundation and David Koch, the Danish Cancer Society, the Danish Research Council for Strategic Research, the Danish National Research Foundation, the Danish Medical Research Council, the Aarhus University Research Foundation, and National Cancer Institute.

Denmeade and Isaacs are consultants for GenSpera Inc. and have received equity and financial compensation. This relationship has been disclosed and is under the management of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine Conflict of Interest Committee.

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chat29 Comments


  1. somebody

    On the surface, this is great news.

  2. coolio

    I found the cure to cancer! … now just give me $1,000,000.00 and you may receive treatment.

  3. Aharon

    The exciting thing is that the cancer itself is activating its own demise.

  4. Dan Henning

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  5. Jon @

    That’s exciting news! Hopefully the author will post the results of the test here on Futurity.

  6. Jack Harmon

    This will never see production, at least not for many years until government figure out how monetize it to replace the billions in tax they earn from cancer.

    It’s sad and an ex-lab techie, these things tend to get squashed as soon as they become known.

  7. Corey

    “I found the cure to cancer! … now just give me $1,000,000.00 and you may receive treatment.”

    I’d rather have the option instead of no cure at all.

  8. Billy

    This is not derived from Marijuana you idiot. It is a plant yes but it does not have any chemical makeup even closely resembling that of cannabis. Take time to sit down an actually read the article.

  9. CitizenKane

    @Jack Harmon. No you are wrong. See Compound is being developed by a private company that rasied private dollars to fund its full commercial development.

  10. Anon

    Take time to sit down and actually read the comment. He never stated that the drug he is talking about is the one in the article, he even says “we already have” which implies he didn’t mean the plant in the article. If you were referring to Dan Henning that is, but can’t find anyone else leaving such a comment.

  11. Guy in Texas

    Anyone else notice that the evil, hated, Republican bogey-man David Koch helped to support this? According to Wikipedia, he’s given over $200 Million to medical research, much of it related to prostate cancer and cancer generally. Still a bogey-man?

  12. Rob

    @Jack –
    That may be the case for a disease that you can live with for a long time, like diabetes. There it might be more profitable for pharma companies to have another treatment option than to find a cure. (Or to research prevention options using diet, vitamins and antioxidants).

    But a cancer cure would generate a big stream of new revenue for the pharma company that develops it. Anybody in the U.S. that lives with cancer for a long time probably is relegated to go onto government Medicare (and since cancer tends to hit the elderly, they might already be on Medicare). Medicare pays so little that doctors and pharma companies don’t make money on those patients, so a cure is indeed better than a treatable condition. The government wants to reduce their Medicare costs, so they also have no reason to block a cancer cure. So at least in this particular case, your conspiracy theories don’t work out.

  13. nathan

    Funded by David Koch? I thought he was evil or something?

  14. Jim

    Thank god we have the FDA which will arbitrarily add 15 years to the timetable of this getting to consumers with terminal cancer.

  15. t chong

    billy idiot

  16. Obviousguy

    Oh look its a cure for cancer…they”ve been saying that over and over for the last decade…

  17. Robert Reed

    The Koch Brothers are evil. The $200 million in charitable giving is just a tax dodge and a fraction of their billions in annual revenue.
    My best wishes to the researchers and their partners. Good work all.
    And stop taking money from Satan.

  18. Kin Israel Notarte

    This is another discovery in pharmacology. I hope this will be subjected for more clinical trials and finally for drug development. We really need drugs today that are selective in their effects, in such away, that only the cancer cells are adversely affected in the human body. As Paul Ehrlich once said, the best chemotherapeutic agent is the one that vanquishes the disease without harming the person who has it.

  19. Mary C.

    A poisonous relative of the carrot? So is hemlock–not the evergreen tree, but the stuff that Socrates drank.

  20. John Wigle

    Hopefully they can also chemically modify the G202 drug to have other cancer antigens trigger the cell killing agents. For instance, modification to the drug to activate with the carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) would allow its use for treatments in colon, breast, pancreatic, lung, stomach and other cancers.


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