05 August 2019

British researchers have successfully modified a common herbal remedy to create a potentially powerful new treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), it has been announced.

A compound called parthenolide is derived from the feverfew plant. The extract has been available commercially some time, and previous research has suggested it might have anti-cancer properties. However, parthenolide has poor drug-like qualities and so investigations into its potential as a cancer treatment have not progressed beyond basic lab research.

Now researchers at University of Birmingham say they have chemically modified parthenolide to produce several new drug-like compounds that can kill a CLL cell line in vitro. According to the researchers, the compounds increase the levels of reactive oxygen species, which are unstable and cause cancer cell death at high levels.

Their findings have been published in the journal MedChemCom.

Dr Angelo Agathanggelou, who initiated the research, said: “There are several effective treatments for CLL, but after a time the disease in some patients becomes resistant. We were interested in finding out more about the potential of parthenolide.

“With expertise from colleagues in the School of Chemistry we've been able to demonstrate that this compound shows real promise and could provide alternative treatment options for CLL patients.”

Professor John Fossey, from the University's School of Chemistry, said: “This research is important not only because we have shown a way of producing parthenolide that could make it much more accessible to researchers, but also because we've been able to improve its drug-like properties to kill cancer cells.

“It's a clear demonstration that parthenolide has the potential to progress from the flower-bed into the clinic.”

Source: Li, X., Payne, D., Ampolu, B., Bland, N., Brown, J.T., Dutton, M., Fitton, C., Guliver, A., Hale, L., Hamza, D., Jones, G., Lane, R., Leach, A., Male, L., Merisor, E., Morton, M., Quy, A., Roberts, R., Scarll, R., Schulz-Utermoehl, T., Stankovic, T., Stevenson, B., Fossey, J., Agathanggelou, A. (2019) “Derivatisation of parthenolide to address chemoresistant chronic lymphocytic leukaemia”, MedChemCom, available from doi: 10.1039/c9md00297a


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