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The taxanes are a family of chemotherapeutic agents derived from certain species of yews (coniferous trees of the genus Taxus). Paclitaxel, nicknamed taxol by the original researchers (and later marketed under the trade name Taxol), was the first of the taxanes to be developed, and is perhaps the most well-known and controversial chemotherapy drug in existence. The compound was first isolated from Pacific yew bark in the 1960s, under a program organized by the U.S. National Cancer Institutes and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to systematically screen plant compounds for their anti-cancer potential (Goodman and Walsh 2001, p. 9). Among cancer chemotherapies, taxanes are routinely used in the treatment of a wide range of cancers, including ovarian, breast, non-small cell lung, head and neck, stomach, prostate, and testicular cancers, as well as leukemia. Research is underway to expand use of the drug beyond the cancer setting (Liggins et al 2004; Kurose et al 2001).

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