Poppy help for cancer drug

A chemical produced by the poppy could help mass produce cancer drugs. Photo:

Scientists from the University of York have found a chemical in opium poppies, which could help in producing cancer drugs.

The plant makes a chemical called noscapine, which is already used in cough medicine. Noscapine is being tested as an anti-cancer drug in early clinical trials. The way in which opium poppies produce it is controlled by genes encoding a range of enzymes, and because scientists now understand how it makes so much could help in the commercial production of the chemical and subsequently drugs.

We were amazed to find that this gene cluster encodes for almost the entire biosynthetic pathway for noscapine. With this one discovery we have been able to produce an outline of the pathway and define a number of the steps involved: something that normally takes years.

– Professor Ian Graham, University of York