September 12, 2007

A collaborative effort between two colleges at the University of Kentucky, involving the Kentucky Tobacco Research and Development Center at UK, holds opportunity to advance a potential new treatment for a variety of cancers.

Researchers in the College of Pharmacy and the College of Agriculture together with Leuchemix Inc., a research and development company based in Northern California, are working together on the production of the plant “feverfew,” the raw material for the production of parthenolide.

Previously, Craig Jordan and Peter Crooks at UK developed drug-like derivatives of parthenolide to further the pharmaceutical development of this potentially exciting anti-cancer agent. These novel chemical derivatives which appear to be particularly relevant to the treatment of leukemia were licensed to and further developed by Leuchemix Inc. 

“However, as these novel drug entities progressed through preclinical evaluation it became obvious to us and Leuchemix that we would require a large source of feverfew,” said Crooks, faculty member and researcher in the UK College of Pharmacy.

This provided the basis for the collaborative input of the Kentucky Tobacco Research and Development Center (KTRDC) at UK’s College of Agriculture, allowing them to provide the agronomic research needed for determining the best methods for growing feverfew.

“We conducted preliminary experiments at Spindletop Farm and found that the plant grows spectacularly well in our Kentucky soils,” said Maelor Davies, KTRDC director. “We were able to show that the plant can be grown very much like tobacco, using the same float-bed system to raise seedlings, and then setting them in the field using vegetable transplanting equipment.”

The KTRDC and UK’s Natural Products Alliance support development of new and different crops being used in a variety of natural products. For this feverfew research, funding and complementary research support were provided by the Alliance and KTRDC.

“Although the research is still at the preclinical stage, we are very excited about the clinical potential of our lead parthenolide derivative LC-1. Our collaboration with these two UK
colleges is helping to advance the work and has the additional benefit of potentially providing a 
new crop to Kentucky’s agricultural industry,” said Bill Matthews, chief executive officer of Leuchemix. 

The KTRDC recently assisted Leuchemix in securing state funding for larger-scale on-farm production during the 2007 growing season. It’s hoped this will generate sufficient active ingredient (parthenolide) for the upcoming clinical trials.

“There’s great potential for people to benefit from this collaborative effort,” Davies said. “Certainly we hope patients will benefit from a new treatment for their specific disease, and of course Kentucky farmers will potentially benefit from a new crop that could be grown using similar techniques used for producing burley tobacco.”

According to Davies, discussions are under way with Coldstream Laboratories Inc. and a Kentucky-based bioprocessing company to explore aspects of post-harvest processing of feverfew.

“The project also underscores the presence in Kentucky of all components necessary to advance plant natural products opportunities, including biomedical research and development, crop production, plant bioprocessing and medical drug formulation,” he said. “We’re excited by this synergy of technologies and capabilities, and the resulting attractiveness of Kentucky as a prime location for the plant natural products industry.”


Haven Miller, 859-257-4736, Kristi Lopez, 859-323-7601