Chemistry and Biology of Taxol

Kyriacos Costa Nicolaou, Wei‐Min ‐M Dai, Rodney Kiplin Guy

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

693 Scopus citations


One can view plants as a reference library of compounds waiting to be searched by a chemist who is looking for a particular property. Taxol, a complex polyoxygenated diterpene isolated from the Pacific Yew, Taxus brevifolia, was discovered during extensive screening of plant materials for antineoplastic agents during the late 1960s. Over the last two decades, interest in and research related to taxol has slowly grown to the point that the popular press now seems poised to scoop each new development. What was once an obscure compound, of interest only to the most masochistic of synthetic chemists and an equally small number of cellular biologists, has become one of the few organic compounds, which, like benzene and aspirin, is recognizable by name to the average citizen. In parallel, the scientific study of taxol has blossomed. Physicians are currently studying its effects on nearly every known neoplasm. Biologists are using taxol to study the mechanisms of cell function by observing the effects of its interactions with the cellular skeletal systems. Synthetic chemists, absorbed by the molecule's unique and sensitive structure and functionality, are exploring seemingly every available pathway for its synthesis. Indeed, the demand for taxol has risen so in the last five years that alternative sources to the extraction of T. brevifolia are being vigorously pursued. Because of the rapidly expanding scope of research in the multifaceted study of taxol, those who are interested in the field may find acquisition of a reasonable base of knowledge an arduous task. For this reason, this account attempts to bring together, for the first time, in a cogent overview the chemistry and biology of this unique molecule.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-44
Number of pages30
JournalAngewandte Chemie International Edition in English
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 17 1994


  • Drug research
  • Medicinal chemistry
  • Natural products
  • Taxol
  • Total synthesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Chemistry (all)


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