By Syed Akbar
With more and more health-conscious Americans turning to plant products
for their daily needs, the United States is now looking towards the ancient
Indian systems of herbal medicine to unravel the secrets of cure hidden in
herbs native to sub-continent.
A team of American researchers visited Hyderabad early this week to chalk
out a strategy with local scientists to develop new medicinal products from
natural sources like plants and herbs. America does not have traditional
medicine while India has a heritage of natural medicinal products that trace
back in history to more than 5000 years.
The American scientists will utilise the traditional knowledge of herb-based
Indian medicinal systems like Ayurveda, Unani and Sidda and explore their
curative properties as part of their project to validate the medicinal properties
of the herbs grown on Indian soil. The emphasis will be on new herbal drugs
for cancer, malaria and other life-threatening diseases, besides natural
pesticides for agricultural use.
The demand for consumer products derived from plants, herbal products,
botanicals, dietary supplements, phytomedicines and nutraceuticals,
dramatically increased in the US in the past five years. But, the quality of the
products that are on the marketplace is highly variable and neither the
consumer nor the healthcare professional is able to distinguish between high
and low quality products.
"India has a rich tradition of herbs and herbal products. But many of them
lack scientific validation. Our research collaboration with the Americans will
help us understand these natural products in a more scientific way," says Dr
JS Yadav, director of the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology.
The IICT and the National Centre for Natural Products Research, University
of Mississippi, have tied-up to discover new drugs from natural sources.
While India provides its rich and varied herbarium to the Americans, the
latter will revalidate the medicinal properties of Indian herbs for effective use
for the benefit of humanity at large.
Over the years, natural products have been the mainstay of drug discovery
programme. Although several other systems have come into being, desired
results could not be obtained. Hence the focus is again shifted to natural
products, says Prof Larry Walker, director of NCNPR, USA.
Natural products are currently used across the world as herbal drugs, dietary
supplements and neutraceuticals. With increase in demand for the natural
products, big pharma companies from across the globe have once again
shifted their attention towards natural products and increased their efforts
towards finding new bioactive molecules from them.
According to Prof Ikhlas Khan, director, FDA programme, USA, natural
products offer a vast and virtually unlimited source of new agents for both
pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries. "As part of the MoU signed
between IICT (CSIR) and NCNPR, we are conducting basic and applied
multidisciplinary research to discover and develop natural products for use as
pharmaceuticals, dietary supplements and agrochemicals, and to understand
the biological and chemical properties of medicinal plants," he points out.
The Indo-US research focus will be on discovering new drugs for unmet
therapeutic needs such as cancer and infectious diseases, improving the
quality and safety of botanical dietary supplements, and discovering new,
effective agrochemicals that will not harm the environment. It will also target
on discovering bioactive natural products, developing novel technologies and
processes that facilitate the discovery of bioactive natural products and
providing research based information on plant-derived products with
medicinal or agricultural applications.
Prof Walker says that emphasis will be on agents that control certain
infectious diseases, cancer and immune disorders. Chemical constituents
responsible for biological effects are identified and then either isolated and
purified in the search for new single entity pharmaceutical ingredients, or
characterised and standardised in the search for new multicomponent
Current products include the discovery and development of antifungal agents
for life-threatening infections, anti-cancer agents that target specific critical
processes in the cancer cell, antibiotics effective against bacteria that are
resistant to many current antibiotics, new drugs for tuberculosis, malaria and
other tropical parasitic diseases, antioxidants for cancer prevention,
immunostimulatory botanicals, anti-inflammatory botanicals, and the
development of Dronabinol Hemisuccinate suppositories to control nausea
due to chemotherapy and for pain management.
"Our goal is to identify botanical products with the potential to improve
human health and to conduct applied research that will enhance the safe and
proper use of botanical products by heatlhcare professionals and consumers,"
says Prof Khan.
Although the science of pharmacognosy is enjoying a vigorous renaissance
due to the widespread use of herbal medicine and natural products as
supplements, Dr Yadav feels that challenges are being faced to authenticate
and standardise these products.
On the other hand re-emerging diseases require new approaches and
solutions. As history indicates, the best source for new chemical entities is
the natural source. "In order to explore full potential of natural products the
collaborative research is needed," he says.
"Our natural products research effort is a broad, multidisciplinary, integrated
programme with three major emphasis areas: the discovery and early
development of potential new drugs and agrochemicals from natural
products; the understanding and science-based characterisation of botanical
products used as dietary supplements; and research on medicinal plants, the
production and processing of their pharmaceutical actives, and their potential
for the development of alternative crops", observes Prof Walker.