Chemistry and Life

Medicinal chemistry. Pharmacology. Toxicology. Environmental sciences.

Crocuses, crocetin, and transcrocetinate sodium


Crocuses Michael H ParkerA few days ago we got an early Spring dusting of snow.  It melted shortly after the sun came up, but the snow and budding crocuses together made a nice photo before it was gone.  Taking this photo brought to mind a nice story connecting crocuses to a potential pharmaceutical drug.

Crocuses are the source of the spice saffron which gives a bright yellow color to the foods it is used in.  The part of the plant that is used is the little yellow stigma inside the flower.  The chemical that is primarily responsible for that yellow color is called crocin.  Crocin is a glycoside (a sugar derivative) of crocetin which belongs to a class of pigment compounds called carotenoids.  When crocin is reacted with sodium hydroxide, crocetin is released as the sodium salt.  It is this salt of crocetin that is being studied as a potential pharmaceutical drug.

The generic name assigned to this compound is transcrocetinate sodium.   And according to this document, it is being studied as a “radiation sensitizer for tumors” and for “reoxygenation of hypoxic tissue in peripheral artery disease”.  The company behind the research is Diffusion Pharmaceuticals which is studying related carotenoids as well.

I don’t know how promising these compounds are in terms of their development and clinical trial results, but it would certainly make a nice ending to the story if a chemical compound from crocuses ending up as a useful medicine.



2 thoughts on “Crocuses, crocetin, and transcrocetinate sodium

  1. colchicine comes from autumn crocus – it has been studied extensively in cancer

    • Interesting. I had to look it up, but autumn crocus, despite the name, is not really a crocus. Taxonomy is not my strength but it seems that autumn crocus is more closely related to lilies than to true crocuses. The autumn crocus pictures on Wikipedia certainly look like crocuses to me though.

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