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Trends Pharmacol Sci. 2002 May;23(5):225-31.

Functional versus chemical diversity: is biodiversity important for drug discovery?

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Dept of Intellectual Property and Scientific Information, Solvay Pharmaceuticals, C.J. van Houtenlaan 36, 1381 CP Weesp, The Netherlands.


Prospecting the full biodiversity of nature to find leads for new drugs is not necessary. Because finding leads is aimed at identifying biological activity, structure is of secondary importance. Furthermore, although natural chemical diversity might be unrivalled, functional diversity is bound to be considerably less. It is likely that many millions of chemically distinct molecules exist in nature but it is inconceivable that the number of different biological functions is near this number. This is corroborated by knowledge obtained from the genome sequences of an increasing number of species. It is unlikely that ligands for specific molecular targets are restricted to one species and even individual compounds are often found in more than one species. Important molecular mechanisms are likely to be ubiquitous and there are no a priori reasons to assume that some are restricted to, for example, tropical rainforests. Thus, there are no obvious advantages of "biodiversity prospecting", which will, possibly, endanger fragile ecosystems in the search for rare species.

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