For Immediate Release
University Receives Patent for New Anti-Cancer Crop
The Stephen F. Austin State University Arthur Temple College of Forestry has once again reached new heights. However, the most recent success of this premier college extends beyond the forests of East Texas and into the realm of anti-cancer drugs that positively impact the entire world. On June 26, SFA received patent approval from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a special variety of the Camptotheca lowreyana tree named Katie.
The Arthur Temple College of Forestry has conducted an eight-year study to develop Camptotheca as an easily harvested medicinal crop for camptothecin production. Camptothecins (CPTs) are the second most important source of anti-cancer drugs in the world. It is expected that CPTs will soon surpass taxol from the yew tree as the number one source of anti-cancer drugs. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, three semi-synthetic drugs from CPT were recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of ovarian, colorectal and pancreatic cancers.
Dr. Shiyou Li, SFA research scientist, has facilitated the success of this project from its inception in 1994 to the triumphant acquisition of a U.S. patent, although he is quick to credit others for their contributions.
"I appreciate Dr. Kent Adair (former dean of the College of Forestry) and Dr. Scott Beasley (current Collge of Forestry dean) for the opportunity to work on this project. I especially appreciate my co-workers, Ms. Yujie Wang and Dr. Yijun Yi; Ms. Yvette Clark, SFA general counsel; Mr. Huan N. Le of Lufkin; and Tom Northup of Houston. This effort could not have been successful without the hard work of these people."
Previously, the only species known was Camptotheca acuminata which is a tree native to China. It can now also be found in India, Japan and Germany. Prior to the research conducted at SFA, the extraction of CPTs from the Camptotheca tree was a very long and arduous process. CPTs are normally extracted only from the seeds of the fruit of the tree. Trees typically do not produce fruit until they are six to ten years old, and even then they produce only several pounds of fruit annually. Since these trees require tropical climates to develop to maturity, they are not suited to the climate of East Texas. Making CPT production even more difficult, C. acuminata has been listed as a national endangered species in China, and the fruits, as well as the export of related products, are under regulation by the Chinese government.
Dr. Shiyou Li and his colleagues, through dedication and hard work have in effect "built a better mousetrap." Dr. Li first has developed a different variety from the species Camptotheca lowreyana, known as "Katie." The new variety is named in honor of Mrs. Katie Northrup of Houston. Mrs. Northrup was instrumental in securing over $200,000 in funding for the project from the Houston area.
This new and distinct cultivar is not a tree but a dense bush. The CPTs are extracted from the leaves of the bush at as early as six months of growth. Katie is also drought and cold temperature tolerant and contains a much higher concentration of CPT than that of the Chinese Camptotheca tree. If Katie is developed into a crop, it can easily be harvested with machinery rather than by hand, thus lowering the production cost of extraction now present in the market.
"Dr. Li was one of the leading taxonomists in China when he decided to come to SFA to earn his Ph.D. Consequently, he knew where to go in China to look for different species of this valuable tree. That was the key to our ultimately receiving the patent. Because of Dr. Lis efforts, SFA now has the largest and most exclusive Camptotheca germplasm (collection of genetic materials) in the world," said Dr. Scott Beasley, dean of the Arthur Temple College of Forestry.
This eight-year endeavor was supported by Stephen F. Austin State University, but also by The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, The Fondren Foundation, The Chinese government, Mr. Jack Hicks, Mr. and Mrs. David Dolben and Mr. Charles Pouland, in addition to the Northrup family.