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Mansukh Wani, codiscoverer of Taxol, dies at age 95

Chemist’s work focused on natural products as an important source of life-saving cancer drugs

by Linda Wang
April 21, 2020

This is a photo of Mansukh Wani.
Credit: Courtesy of Nicholas Oberlies
Mansukh Wani

Mansukh C. Wani, 95, died of natural causes on April 11 in Durham, North Carolina.

Wani and the late Monroe E. Wall are credited with the discovery of the anticancer compounds taxol (paclitaxel) and camptothecin.

Paclitaxel, isolated from the bark of the Pacific yew tree, and camptothecin, isolated from the Chinese tree Camptotheca acuminata, and their analogues are now considered standard treatment for ovarian, breast, lung and colon cancers. Wani was a principal scientist emeritus at Research Triangle Institute in North Carolina.

“Dr. Wani’s impact on the field of natural products is immeasurable,” says Nicholas H. Oberlies, Patricia A. Sullivan Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, who worked with Wani at the Research Triangle Institute. “Particularly for those of us striving to discover new anticancer compounds, taxol is the bar, the brass ring, the ultimate goal.”

Wani earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Bombay in 1947, a master’s degree in organic chemistry from the same university in 1950, and a PhD in chemistry from Indiana University at Bloomington in 1962. He joined the Research Triangle Institute in 1962 and spent his entire career there. In 2003, the Natural Products Laboratory at the Research Triangle Institute where he and Wall worked was dedicated as an American Chemical Society National Historic Landmark.

“His life’s work shone a light on natural products as an important source of new antitumor drugs.” says Susan B. Horwitz, Distinguished Professor and Falkenstein Chair of Cancer Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, who discovered Taxol’s mode of action. “He often called me to ask if I had made any new discoveries about Taxol and was always shocked when I told him how many millions of patients had been given the drug.”

“Mansukh was a soft-spoken individual, who despite all of his earlier professional success, continued to take a life-long interest in the discovery of further lead compounds from natural sources with potential anticancer activity,” says Douglas Kinghorn, Professor and Jack L. Beal Chair of Pharmacy at Ohio State University and emeritus editor of the Journal of Natural Products. “He is to be particularly remembered for his constant encouragement and unwavering support of many younger scientists in the field.”

Wani is survived by his wife, Ramila; son, Bankim; daughter-in-law, Darshana; and grandson, Nilesh.



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