Alimta: Fundamental science, fundamental benefits

Friday, Nov 18, 2011
by Catherine Zandonella

The story of Alimta® highlights how university research can yield benefits to human health and society while enhancing revenue at a major pharmaceutical company.

Alimta® is a drug approved for the treatment of certain types of lung cancer. The drug is based on ground-breaking research by the late Edward C. Taylor, a Princeton professor emeritus who passed away in 2017, in collaboration with Eli Lilly & Co. Taylor was the A. Barton Hepburn Professor of Organic Chemistry, Emeritus.

Yet this cancer drug, which has touched the lives of so many cancer sufferers, would never have been developed if not for the creative brilliance of Princeton’s Taylor, who first began to study its biological mechanism while a student in 1946.

Back then, his interest in the molecule stemmed from the fact that it’s unique shape – two joined rings of carbon and nitrogen atoms – was found in the wing pigments of butterflies and, curiously, in the human liver. Later identified as folic acid, the molecule is essential for human development and also drives tumor growth.

Through the years, Taylor became a leading expert on folic acid chemistry and became interested in finding ways to inhibit folic acid as a way to decrease tumor growth. In 1985, Taylor joined with Eli Lilly in a collaboration to create a library of new molecules that could interfere with folic acid and slow tumor growth. One of these molecules eventually became Alimta®.

Alimta® is an example of how curiosity-driven scientific discovery can lead to societal benefit and commercial success. Princeton’s Office of Technology Licensing is dedicated to assisting the transfer of promising innovations and discoveries into life-changing products and services.