Pure and Simple(r)

Making cancer drugs cheaper and more effective – with a paper “coffee” filter

June 2018

The action of breast cancer drug Tamoxifen is mediated not by the drug itself but by its metabolite, Z-endoxifen. The body’s ability to convert the drug varies between patients because of genetic differences in enzyme production. Administering Z-endoxifen directly would remove this variability, but, until now, synthesis of the drug has been prohibitively expensive. Now, researchers from Eindhoven University of Technology, Syncom BV and the Antoni van Leeuwenhoek hospital in the Netherlands have found an inexpensive way to produce Z-endoxifen directly – using only a simple paper filter similar to those used for making coffee to isolate the pure drug.

The development has been some years in the making. “In 2011, Jos Beijnen (Netherlands Cancer Institute) asked us if we would be willing to synthesize a gram of Z-endoxifen for his research group, which is looking into the pharmacology of different tamoxifen metabolites (among them Z-endoxifen). At the time, Z-endoxifen was hypothesized to be the active form of tamoxifen and its efficacy in clinical trials had not yet been shown,” says British-born Lech Milroy, Assistant Professor at Eindhoven University. “As part of her Bachelor’s project, Daphne van Scheppingen and I produced milligram quantities of the Z-endoxifen as a 95/5 mixture of Z/E isomers using an optimized route.” Beijnen then contracted out the synthesis to coauthors Syncom (1), where further optimization work was performed by Bartjan Koning to increase the safety and scalability of the synthesis, ultimately enabling production of the drug on a multi-gram scale, in a single batch and with higher purity.

Credit: TU/e, Bart van Overbeeke