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Cancer drug from Kansas company can be tested on humans, FDA says. It’s made of lilies

Genzada Pharmaceuticals in Sterling, Kansas has FDA approval to begin human clinical trials for a new cancer treatment. The drug is derived from a flower native to the Middle East that the company is growing in Kansas.
Genzada Pharmaceuticals in Sterling, Kansas has FDA approval to begin human clinical trials for a new cancer treatment. The drug is derived from a flower native to the Middle East that the company is growing in Kansas. Video screengrab/KSN

The Food and Drug Administration has approved human clinical testing for a new cancer drug created by a company based in the town of Sterling, Kansas — population 2,200, right in the middle of the state.

The Genzada Pharmaceuticals drug is made from a flower native to the Middle East — described as “a black calla lily, which resembles a Peace Lily” — that the company is growing in greenhouses in Sterling, according to The Hutchinson News.

The drug has already shown success treating “pancreatic cancer and head and neck squamous cell carcinoma,” MarketWatch reports.

“So you got Silicon Valley, Austin, Texas, and the research triangle in North Carolina that are your big biotech hubs,” the company’s chief operating officer, Cameron West, told KSN in Wichita.

“But, nobody really thinks of Sterling, Kansas.

He told the TV station that the lily-based compound is “knocking out multiple hallmarks of cancer. So, it helps shrink the tumors. It helps block the cancer from spreading.”

The official name for the compound, which Genzada calls its “flagship molecule,” is GZ17-6.02, the company wrote in a statement on its Facebook page last week.

The company said it is derived in part from Arum palaestinum, also known as the black calla lily, native to several regions in the Middle East.

It’s not unusual for nature to play a role in cancer treatment. The National Institutes of Health says that because of the “real need for new efficient anti-cancer drugs with reduced side effects,” plants are a promising source. It estimates that more than “60% of anti-cancer drugs are directly or indirectly derived” from the plant kingdom.

The cancer-fighting compound known as vinblastine, for instance, is derived from Catharanthus roseus, the Madagascar periwinkle, according to Nature.com.

“Probably the most well-known plant-derived anti-cancer drug is Paclitaxel (Taxol),” made with extracts from the bark of the western yew, according to the NIH.

“This is a normal process in cancer drug development,” Genzada owner Gene Zaid told the Hutchinson News. “You get inspiration from Mother Nature and take it from there. There’s a now host of drugs that came from natural products.”

Zaid moved from the Middle East to Kansas to work as a chemist in the oil and gas industry, and started his own chemical company in Sterling in 1982, later founding Genzada to concentrate on developing the cancer drug, according to the News. The company plans to move its headquarters to Hutchinson, the News reported.

West told KSN that cancer patients will be able to take the drug orally at home. He said the company will start enrolling patients for the clinical trials in early 2019.

University of Kansas doctors discuss the high cost of breakthrough drugs for cancer and liver disease.

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