Keeping an eye on cancer drug synthesis

Pregnant sheep that eat corn lilies give birth to lambs with only one eye in the centre of their heads. The underlying cause is a compound dubbed cyclopamine, for obvious reasons. However, this natural alkaloid may have a redeeming feature in that it is proving to be an effective candidate for cancer therapy in adult people and is undergoing clinical trials. Now, researchers at the universities of Leipzig, Germany and Thessaloniki, Greece, have developed a new synthetic pathway for the production of cyclopamine that could help improve structure-activity studies and the development of cyclopamine analogues with improved physiological properties.