A taxane is a chemical compound derived from trees in the genus Taxus, also known as yews. Most taxanes are produced synthetically for quality control and ease of use, although drugs under investigation may be researched in their natural form to collect as much information as possible about their chemical composition and structure. Doctors use taxanes in chemotherapy, particularly for breast cancers, and these compounds have a wide range of applications in the management and treatment of cancers.
Some examples of taxanes include taxol, docetaxel, and paclitaxel. These drugs usually include “tax” somewhere in their name to reference their origins. This nomenclature is common with drugs derived from natural origins, allowing doctors to easily see what class a drug belongs to. When a cancer appears resistant to taxane therapy, doctors know to avoid taxanes and focus on other antineoplastic agents to treat the cancer.
These drugs interfere with microtubules, structures inside the cells that play a critical role in cell reproduction and division. By blocking their action, the drugs stop cancer cells from growing, slowing the growth of cancer and preventing the cancer from spreading. A doctor may recommend a taxane for part of initial treatment for cancer, and also as part of a treatment plan to prevent the recurrence of cancer once a patient appears to be stabilized. Taxane therapy can last for several years, depending on the cancer and the treatment protocol.
Drug companies produce taxanes synthetically in their labs to generate a steady and highly reliable supply. While compounds found in nature generally cannot be patented, drug companies can apply for patents for synthetic production techniques. Protection of intellectual property in the pharmaceutical world allows companies to sell drugs under patent for a set period of time without competition to recoup the costs of drug research and development. Once the patent expires, other drug companies can use the same production method to produce competing generic versions.
Cancers may develop taxane resistance with the assistance of specialized proteins. Doctors can look for these proteins on blood tests to see if taxane therapy will be appropriate for a patient. The presence of specific proteins with some kinds of cancers can also be helpful for researchers, as it may allow them to develop targeted therapies by locking on to those proteins to treat cancers. Patients interested in contributing to cancer research and accessing experimental therapies can discuss clinical trials and research with their doctors.