When it comes to stocking pharmacy shelves with drugs to treat human ills, Mother Nature still is the ultimate medicinal chemist, a study scheduled for the March 23 issue of ACS’ Journal of Natural Products, a monthly publication, suggests.
In the study, the National Cancer Institute’s David J. Newman and Gordon M. Craig conclude that only 30 percent of the critically important “new chemical entities (NCEs)” introduced between 1981 and mid-2006 were synthetic and not based on a naturally-occurring compound. NCEs are totally new drugs, never before available, rather than modified versions of existing medications sometimes termed “me-too” drugs. The remaining 70 percent of the NCEs introduced during the last 25 years were natural products — medicines obtained from sources such as plants and animals, derived from natural products or chemically designed to mimic natural products.
Natural products range from aspirin (originally obtained from the willow tree) to taxol, the anti-cancer drug discovered in the Pacific yew tree. About half of all anti-cancer drugs introduced since the 1940s are either natural products or medicines derived directly from natural products, the study notes.
The new review of natural products’ role as sources of new drugs is an expanded and updated version of reports published in 1997 and 2003. “We strongly advocate expanding, not decreasing, the exploration of Nature as a source of novel active ingredients that may serve as the leads and scaffolds for elaboration into desperately needed efficacious drugs for a multitude of disease indications,” the study concludes.
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