Scope of Drug Discovery from Indian Traditional Medicine

S.A. Nirmal1, S.C. Pal2, G. Velmani3, & Subhash C. Mandal3*

Abstract: Traditional medicine is the synthesis of therapeutic experience of generations of practicing physicians of indigenous systems of medicine. Medicinal plants play a vital role for the development of new drugs (export and import diverse parts or bioactive compounds in the current market). Drug discovery strategies based on natural products and traditional medicines are re-emerging as attractive options. A reverse pharmacology approach, inspired by traditional medicine and Ayurveda, can offer a smart strategy for new drug candidates to facilitate discovery process and also for the development of rational synergistic botanical formulations. Yet there is lot of scope for India for drug discovery and development of lead compounds or formulations for traditional medicine and export then.

Introduction to the drug discovery from medicinal plants: Nature always stands as a golden mark to exemplify the outstanding phenomena of symbiosis. Natural products from plant, animal and minerals have been the basis of the treatment of human disease. Today estimate that about 80% of people in developing countries still rely on traditional medicine based largely on species of plants and animals for their primary health care. Herbal medicines are currently in demand and their popularity is increasing day by day. About 500 plants with medicinal use are mentioned in ancient literature and around 800 plants have been used in indigenous systems of medicine. India is a vast repository of medicinal plants that are used in traditional medical treatments,1 the various indigenous systems such as Siddha, Ayurveda, and Unani use several plant species to treat different ailments. Drug discovery from medicinal plants has evolved to include numerous fields of inquiry and various methods of analysis. The process typically begins with a botanist, ethnobotanist, ethnopharmacologist or a plant ecologist who collects and identifies the plant(s) of interest. Collection may involve species with known biological activity for which active compound(s) have not been isolated (i.e. traditionally used herbal remedies) or may involve taxa collected randomly for a large screening programme. Phytochemists (natural product chemists) prepare extracts from the plant material, subject these extracts to biological screening in pharmacologically relevant assays, and commence the process of isolation and characterization of the active compound(s) through bioassay-guided fractionation. Molecular biology has become essential to medicinal plant drug discovery through the determination and implementation of appropriate screening assays directed towards physiologically relevant molecular targets. Pharmacognosy encapsulates all of these fields into a distinct interdisciplinary science. Numerous methods used to acquire compounds for drug discovery include: isolation from plants and other natural sources; synthetic chemistry, combinatorial chemistry, and molecular modeling.2,3,4 Despite the recent interest in molecular modeling, combinatorial chemistry, and other synthetic chemistry techniques by pharmaceutical companies and funding organizations, the natural products particularly that of medicinal plants, remain an important source of new drug, drug leads and chemical entities.5,6,7 In both 2001 and 2003, approximately one quarter of the best-selling drugs worldwide were natural products or were derived from natural products.7 Despite evident successes of drug discovery from medicinal plants, future endeavors face many challenges. Pharmacognosists, phytochemists, and other natural product scientist will need to continuously improve the quality and quantity of compounds that enter the drug development phase to keep pace with other drug discovery efforts.7 The process of drug discovery has been estimated to take an average of 10 years upwards8 and cost more than 800 million US dollars.9 Much of these time and money is spent on the numerous leads that are discarded during the drug discovery process.



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