Ecteinascidin 743 (Et743) is a compound derived from a Caribbean sea squirt (Ecteinascidia turbinate) and is currently showing great promise against advanced soft-tissue and bone sarcomas in clinical trials. In July 2001 Nature Medicine, Yuji Takebayashi and colleagues at the US National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Institute for Cancer Research, Japan reveal that Et743 represents a new class of anti-cancer drug, which works by subverting one of the cell's normal mechanisms of DNA repair (Nature Med 2001, 7:961-966).

While DNA repair is desirable in healthy cells, the aim when treating cancers is to cause as much DNA damage as possible to malignant cells. Any drug that undermines DNA repair in cancer cells enhances this damage – and leads to the speedy death of the cell.

Like a number of other anticancer drugs — for example, mustine and cyclophosphamide — Et743 is...

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