Natural products derived from plants as a source of drugs

Nature, the master of craftsman of molecules created almost an inexhaustible array of molecular entities. It stands as an infinite resource for drug development, novel chemotypes and pharmacophores, and scaffolds for amplification into efficacious drugs for a multitude of disease indications and other valuable bioactive agents. Since time immemorial, natural products have been the backbone of traditional system of healing throughout the globe, and have also been an integral part of history and culture. Although the use of bioactive natural products as herbal drug preparations dates back hundreds, even thousands, of years ago, their application as isolated and characterized compounds to modern drug discovery and development started only in the 19th century.

The history of treatment

The use of plants as medicines has a long history in the treatment of various diseases. The plant-derived compounds have a long history of clinical use, better patient tolerance and acceptance. To date, 35,000-70,000 plant species have been screened for their medicinal use. Plants especially those with ethnopharmacological uses have been the primary sources of medicine for early drug discovery. Fabricant and Farnsworth, (2001) reported that, 80% of 122 plant derived drugs were related to their original ethnopharmacological purposes. Current drug discovery from plants mainly relied on bioactivity–guided fractionation and led to isolation of many important anticancer drugs such as paclitaxel, camptothecin etc.

The first natural product

The first commercial pure natural product introduced for therapeutic use is morphine marketed by Merck in 1826, and the first semi-synthetic pure drug aspirin, based on a natural product salicin isolated from Salix alba, was introduced by Bayer in 1899. This led to the isolation of early drugs such as cocaine, codeine, digitoxin, quinine and pilocarpine, of which some are still in use and several other recent plant derived compounds, which have undergone development and have been marketed as drugs which include Paclitaxel from Taxus brevifolia for lung, ovarian and breast cancer, Artemisinin from traditional Chinese plant Artemisia annua to combat multidrug resistant malaria, Silymarin extracted from the seeds of Silybum marianum for the treatment of liver diseases.
Author: Prof. (Dr.) Ciddi Veeresham.

Articles from Journal of Advanced Pharmaceutical Technology & Research are provided here courtesy of Wolters Kluwer — Medknow Publications

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