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Curr Drug Targets. 2006 Mar;7(3):265-77.

Biodiversity as a source of anticancer drugs.

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  • 1Program for Collaborative Research in the Pharmaceutical Sciences, College of Pharmacy, University of Illinois at Chicago, 833 South Wood St., Chicago, IL 60612, USA.


Natural Products have been the most significant source of drugs and drug leads in history. Their dominant role in cancer chemotherapeutics is clear with about 74% of anticancer compounds being either natural products, or natural product-derived. The biodiversity of the world provides a resource of unlimited structural diversity for bioprospecting by international drug discovery programs such as the ICBGs and NCDDGs, the latter focusing exclusively on anticancer compounds. However, many sources of natural products remain largely untapped. Technology is gradually overcoming the traditional difficulties encountered in natural products research by improving access to biodiverse resources, and ensuring the compatibility of samples with high throughput procedures. However, the acquisition of predictive biodiversity remains challenging. Plant and organism species may be selected on the basis of potentially useful phytochemical composition by consulting ethnopharmacological, chemosystematic, and ecological information. On the conservation/political front, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is allaying the anxiety surrounding the notion of biopiracy, which has defeated many attempts to discover and develop new natural products for human benefit. As it becomes increasingly evident and important, the CBD fosters cooperation and adaptation to new regulations and collaborative research agreements with source countries. Even as the past inadequacies of combinatorial chemistry are being analyzed, the intrinsic value of natural products as a source of drug leads is being increasingly appreciated. Their rich structural and stereochemical characteristics make them valuable as templates for exploring novel molecular diversity with the aim of synthesizing lead generation libraries with greater biological relevance. This will ensure an ample supply of starting materials for screening against the multitude of potentially "druggable" targets uncovered by genomics technologies. Far from being mutually exclusive, biodiversity and genomics should be the driving force of drug discovery in the 21st century.

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