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BARC team develops cancer drugs with herbs, spices

September 1, 2016

MUMBAI: A green revolution is underway at one of the world’s longest laboratories located deep inside BARC’s Anushakti Nagar complex near Chembur. Scientists at the 700-metre modular laboratory in BARC are using Indian herbs and spices to develop anti-cancer and other drugs that will be affordable and have fewer side-effects.

Rampatri— better known as `false nutmeg’ and widely used in Goan and Mangalorean cuisine—is a case in point. Scientists from BARC’s bioscience group have developed a chemotherapeutic drug that has, in studies on mice, shown potency against lung cancer and neuroblastoma (a rare pediatric cancer in which cancer cells grow in the nerve cells of the adrenal glands, neck, chest, and spinal cord).

“This is a significant development as neuroblastoma treatment is aggressive and the disease is known to recur,” said Dr S Chattopadhyay, who heads the bio-science group. The herbal drug developed reduces the tumor burden while increasing the efficacy of the usual chemotherapy drugs (such as cisplatin, camptothecin and etoposide) taken alongside. The use of such agents will, in the long run, reduce the cost of medication and their side-effects.

Two other drugs in various stages of commercial release are a radiomodifier and radioprotector. “We have developed radiomodifiers that will enhance the effect of radiotherapy while protecting tissues, lymphocytes, lungs and the gastrointestinal system from radiation injury,” Dr Chattopadhyay said.

The radiomodifier, an oral drug, will be taken up for clinical trial at the Tata Memorial Hospital, Parel. “This herbal radiomodifier is awaiting a patent,” he added.

The radioprotector, which is also awaiting a patent, can be used both before and after radiation exposure to reduce injuries and death and will benefit industry workers and the public in case of an “accidental exposure like the Fukushima nuclear explosion in Japan or a dirty bomb”.

Herbal drugs have fewer or no side-effects and are less expensive. “Moreover, the phytochemicals we develop as adjuvant drugs enhance the efficacy of other drugs and boosts the immune system to minimize the drug dosage,” Dr Chattopadhyay said.

Radiation exposure mainly affects bone marrow, gastrointestinal and reproductive organs. A single dose of the new BARC radioprotector protects mice from all these damages and also increases their lifespan.
 “The pre-clinical results observed with the new radioprotector are better than any radioprotector discovered so far,” he said. The knowhow of the above medicines has been transferred to private entrepreneurs for a quicker commercial release.

 

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