Wani was born in the Nandurbar district, in India. He moved to the United States in 1958, and four years later, after receiving his PhD in Chemistry at Indiana University, he joined a team to synthesize treatments for cancer. After getting much pushback from the medical field regarding camptothecin, a promising new drug to inhibit colon cancer, Wani and his team synthesized enough analogues during human trials to find one that had low toxicity, high effectiveness, and few adverse side effects. Later, Wani said regarding his accomplishment; “If we had abandoned camptothecin when the initial clinical trials showed it to be toxic, we never would have discovered the more promising camptothecin [variants].” In 1970, he mapped out the structure of another cancer-killing molecule, called paclitaxel (or “Taxel”) derived from organic tree bark compounds. In 1992, Taxol was approved for the treatment of ovarian cancer. Masukh Wani passed away on the 11th of April, in 2020.
Legacy: Those two major discoveries contributed massively to the development of a series of prescription drugs that, put together, accounted for about a third of the entire cancer chemotherapeutic (chemical treatment) agent market in 2002. If someone was treated for cancer in 2002, they had a 33% chance of their treatment benefitting Wani’s actions.