Review reports that many pharma companies have eliminated their natural product research programs in the past decade, while from 2001 to 2008 there was a 30 percent drop in the number of natural product-based drugs undergoing clinical studies.
Although the majority of drugs available today have been derived from natural products, research into nature-based pharmaceuticals has declined in recent years due to high development costs and the drug approvals process. However this trend is likely to reverse due to new approaches and technologies, according researchers from the University of Alberta.
“Untapped biological resources, ‘smart screening’ methods, robotic separation with structural analysis, metabolic engineering, and synthetic biology offer exciting technologies for new natural product drug discovery,” write Jesse Li and John Vederas in Friday’s issue of the journal Science. “Advances in rapid genetic sequencing, coupled with manipulation of biosynthetic pathways, may provide a vast resource for the future discovery of pharmaceutical agents.”
Rosy periwinkle in Madagascar. Two drugs derived from rosy periwinkle are used for treating Hodgkin’s lymphoma and childhood leukemia. Photo by Julie Larsen Maher.
The authors note that a return to nature-based pharmaceuticals holds much promise: in 1990 about 80 percent of drugs were either natural products or inspired by them.
“Antibiotics (e.g., penicillin, tetracycline, erythromycin), antiparasitics (e.g., avermectin), antimalarials (e.g., quinine, artemisinin), lipid control agents (e.g., lovastatin and analogs), immunosuppressants for organ transplants (e.g., cyclosporine, rapamycins) and anticancer drugs (e.g., taxol, doxorubicin) revolutionized medicine,” they write. “Although the expansion of synthetic medicinal chemistry in the 1990s caused the proportion of new drugs based on natural products to drop to ~50% (Fig. 1), 13 natural product–derived drugs were approved in the United States between 2005 and 2007, with five of them being the first members of new classes.”
(02/05/2009) Isolongifolenone, a natural compound found in the Tauroniro tree (Humiria balsamifera) of South America, has been identified as an effective deterrent of mosquitoes and ticks, report researchers writing in the latest issue of Journal of Medical Entomology.
(07/28/2008) Deep in the Suriname rainforest, an innovative conservation group is working with indigenous tribes to protect their forest home and culture using traditional knowledge combined with cutting-edge technology. The Amazon Conservation Team (ACT) is partnering with the Trio, an Amerindian group that lives in the remote Suriname-Brazil border area of South America, to develop programs to protect their forest home from illegal gold miners and encroachment, improve village health, and strengthen cultural ties between indigenous youths and elders at a time when such cultures are disappearing even faster than rainforests. In June 2008 mongabay.com visited the community of Kwamalasamutu in Suriname to see ACT’s programs in action. During the visit, Amasina, a Trio shaman who works with ACT, answered some questions about his role as a traditional healer in the village.