January 9, 2007

Noted Cancer Researcher Mansukh Wani Closes the Books on 44-Year Career

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Mansukh Wani, Ph.D., focuses on the isolation and characterization of biologically active natural products and synthesis of anticancer and antifertility agents.
Mansukh Wani

Legacy includes research to develop Taxol, camptothecin with co-discoverer Monroe Wall

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. -- Noted RTI International cancer researcher Mansukh Wani, Ph.D., has retired, ending a distinguished career that includes the development of two of the world's most widely used anti-cancer medications -- Taxol and camptothecin.

Wani, in partnership with the late Dr. Monroe Wall, reported the structure of Taxol and camptothecin, which are found in plants, in 1971 and 1966, respectively. These compounds and their derivatives today represent nearly one-third of all anti-cancer medications on the market.

"Doctors Wani and Wall are responsible for some of the most important research ever conducted at RTI International and the most prominent example of how our research improves the human condition," said Ivy Carroll, Ph.D., director of RTI's Center for Organic and Medicinal Chemistry. "Their research has saved or extended the lives of millions of people, and through their example they continue to inspire our next generation researchers."

Taxol was approved in 1992 for the treatment of ovarian cancer and subsequently was approved for treatment of several other types of malignancies, including breast, lung and prostate cancer. Since the inclusion of Taxol in the treatment regimen for ovarian cancer, the survival rate has more than doubled.

More than 17 analogs of Taxol are in clinical trials for breast, prostate, brain, skin, pancreatic, colorectal and lung cancers. New studies also have shown that Taxol may be effective in treating Alzheimer's disease and scleroderma. First-generation analogs of camptothecin are used for the treatment of ovarian and colon cancers and several second- and third-generation analogs are in various stages of clinical development.

"It has been extremely rewarding to work at RTI, and I thank RTI for all the opportunities it has provided me and, as a result, to help so many cancer patients around the world," Wani said.

Born in India, Wani earned a bachelor's and master's degree in chemistry before coming to America to earn a doctorate at Indiana University. He later conducted postdoctoral research at the University of Wisconsin before joining RTI in 1962.

Wani has earned an extensive list of prestigious awards for his work. These include the Charles F. Kettering Prize, which recognizes the world's most outstanding contributions to the diagnosis and treatment of cancer; the Bruce F. Cain Memorial Award given by the American Association for Cancer Research; the National Cancer Institute Award of Recognition; the Indiana University Distinguished Alumni Award for significant contributions to the world through commitment to science and research; and the North Carolina Award, the state's highest achievement.

The American Chemical Society also commemorated RTI in 2003 for the discoveries of Taxol and camptothecin with a National Chemical Historic Landmark.