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The Story of Taxol: Nature and Politics in the Pursuit of an Anti-Cancer Drug

Goodman, Jordan; Walsh, Vivien

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ISBN 10: 0521032504 / ISBN 13: 9780521032506
Published by Cambridge University Press, U.S.A., 2006
Used Condition: Very Good Soft cover
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Title: The Story of Taxol: Nature and Politics in ...

Publisher: Cambridge University Press, U.S.A.

Publication Date: 2006

Binding: Paperback

Book Condition: Very Good

About this title


Taxol is arguably the most celebrated, talked about, and controversial natural product in recent years. Celebrated because of its efficacy as an anticancer drug and because its discovery has provided powerful support for policies concerned with biodiversity. Talked about because in the early 1990s the American public was bombarded with news reports about the molecule and its host, the slow-growing Pacific yew tree. Controversial because the drug and the yew tree became embroiled in several sensitive political issues with broad public policy implications. Taxol has revolutionized the treatment options for patients with advanced forms of breast and ovarian cancers and some types of leukemia; it shows promise for treating AIDS-related Kaposi's sarcoma. It is the best-selling anticancer drug ever, with world sales of $1.2 billion in 1998 and expected to grow. Goodman and Walsh's careful study of how taxol was discovered, researched, and brought to market documents the complexities and conflicting interests in the ongoing process to find effective treatments. From a broader perspective, The Story of Taxol uses the discovery and development of taxol as a paradigm to address current issues in the history and sociology of science and medicine. Jordan Goodman is a Senior Lecturer in History at the Manchester School of Management, University of Manchester Institute of Science & Technology. He has written on subjects as varied as the history of medicine and economic history for journal articles and in edited volumes. Goodman's previous books include Tobacco in History (Routledge, 1994) and Consuming Habits: Drugs in History and Anthropology (Routledge, 1995). Vivien Walsh is Reader in Technology Management at the Manchester School of Management, University of Manchester Institute of Science & Technology. She has been researching the pharmaceutical and chemical industry for years and is currently working on globalization of innovative activity in the face of technological and organizational changes in the chemical, pharmaceutical, and agro-food industries. Walsh has been a consultant to the European Commission and to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.


Environmentalists have long urged that threatened habitats--the old-growth forests of Appalachia, for instance, or the Amazonian rainforest--be preserved on the off chance that the plants within them may contain natural cures for a host of ailments.

Such proved to be true of the Pacific yew, a tree found in higher elevations here and there throughout the Pacific Northwest. In its bark resides a chemical compound that has proved effective in battling certain kinds of cancers and leukemia. When the discovery of the compound was made in the early 1960s, write English researchers Jordan Goodman and Vivien Walsh, pharmaceutical companies raced to corner the market in Taxus brevifolia bark, formerly considered a kind of natural rubbish, while at the same time working to synthesize the compound artificially. For their part, environmentalists, arguing that yew forests sheltered endangered populations of plants and animals, including the Pacific Northwest spotted owl, fought to protect the tree from development. In the middle stood federal and state forestry agencies, which had to wrestle with the doctrine of multiple use of public resources. By the early 1990s, according to the authors, the yew had become "an important symbol for the fate of the American temperate rainforest in particular and the planet's ecosystem in general," caught in the utilitarian debate over human benefit and the needs of the environment. The debate died down only when the chief pharmaceutical company involved announced that it would develop Taxol through a semi-synthetic process using raw materials from a more abundant species of yew.

An illuminating case study in ecopolitics, Goodman and Walsh's book is useful reading for anyone with an interest in habitat preservation and science policy. --Gregory McNamee

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