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Discov Med. 2005 Apr;5(26):159-64.

Rediscovering natural products as a source of new drugs.

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Chemical and Screening Sciences, Wyeth Research, 401 North Middletown Road, Pearl River, NY 10965, USA.


Extract: Since the very beginnings of human medicine, physicians have relied on chemical compounds produced by animals, plants and microorganisms, so-called natural products, to treat diseases. Natural products are directly or indirectly responsible for roughly one-half of all drugs currently in use. Of the 877 small-molecule new drug molecules introduced between 1981 and 2002, 49% were natural products or natural product analogs. Despite the great success of the 70s and 80s, the pharmaceutical industry de-emphasized natural products research during the following decade. In this article, we examine the underlying reasons for the decline, and assess future prospects for natural products research in drug discovery. In the 1990s, major pharmaceutical companies moved to a lead-finding strategy based on High Throughput Screening (HTS) of very large collections (libraries) of synthetic compounds. The move arose from the belief that techniques such as combinatorial chemistry could produce larger, more cost-effective libraries with improved hit rates and quality. Additionally, advances in molecular biology, cellular biology and genomics dramatically increased the number of molecular targets, prompting shorter drug discovery timelines. In today's drug discovery environment, rapid screening and identification of potential drug molecules is essential for success. This puts traditional natural products-based programs, with their reliance on the lengthy processes of the screening of extracts library, bioassay-guided isolation of the active components, structure elucidation and subsequent production scale-up, at a competitive disadvantage.

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