New Sources and Approaches to Natural Products

Natural products (secondary metabolites) have been the most successful source of leads for potential drug discovery. Natural products have been well documented for their medicinal uses for thousands of years. Plants have evolved and adapted over millions of years to withstand bacteria, insects, fungi and weather to produce unique, structurally diverse secondary metabolites. Their ethno pharmacological properties have been used as a primary source of medicines for early drug discovery. Macro and micro fungi have been part of human life for thousands of years. They were used as food (mushrooms), in preparation of alcoholic beverages (yeasts), medication in traditional medicine and for cultural purposes

Natural products have served as the source and inspiration for a large fraction of the current pharmacopoeia. Although estimates vary depending on the definition of what is considered a natural product-derived drug, it is safe to say that between 25 and 50% of currently marketed drugs owe their origins to natural products. Thus, a review by Newman and Cragg analysing the sources of new drugs from 1981 – 2006, and using a fairly broad definition of what constitutes a “natural product derived drug”, indicates that almost 50% of new drugs introduced during this period had a natural product origin. In the case of anticancer and anti-infective agents the proportion is even higher, and one estimate is that almost two-thirds of such agents are derived from natural products.

Natural products provide many fine chemical and biochemical extracts needed in the pharmaceutical, food and cosmetic industries. Natural products have been, and will be, important sources of new pharmaceutical compounds. Although traditionally natural products have played an important role in drug discovery, in the past few years most Pharma companies have either terminated or considerably scaled down their natural product operations. Technical limitations such as low yields, instability and non-authentic glycan structures are beginning to break down under the relentless weight of research, providing the field with novel promoters, a range of proprietary expression systems and strategies to humanise the glycan profiles of plant-derived glycoproteins. Cooperation between the researchers, breeders, producers and regulatory agencies will be necessary to find the correct path towards the transgenic plants and crops to goal of inexpensive medicines available to all. Currently with the advances in microbiology, their uses have extended to enzymes, biological control, antibiotics and other pharmacologically active products.

  • Reverse pharmacology: rejuvenation of traditional medicines
  • Natural products as lead for drug discovery
  • Natural products from microorganisms
  • Transgenic plants and crops
  • Development of natural products by industry

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