Natural Products: Chemical and Biological Potential of the Rain Forest

Natural Products: Chemical and Biological Potential of the Rain Forest

Geoffrey A. Cordell
Department of Pharmaceutics, College of Pharmacy, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 326010,
and Natural Products Inc. Evanston, Illinois 60203 USA

“Why didn’t they develop natural product drugs in a sustainable manner at the beginning of this century?” In 2035, when the Earth has a population of at least 10.0 billion, will this be our legacy as the world contemplates the costs and availability of synthetic and gene-based products for primary health care? Acknowledging the recent history of the relationship between humankind and the Earth, it is essential that we consider the health care issues that we are leaving our descendants.

There is a vast health care “gap” in the world, particularly in the area of access to quality drugs, and a vast gap in the development of drugs for major global diseases. For most people in the world, plants, in their various forms, remain a primary source of health care. In the developed countries, natural products derived from plants assume a very minor role as prescription and over-the-counter products, even with the widespread use of phytotherapeutical preparations. Pharmaceutical companies have retrenched significantly on the disease areas of focus. These research areas do not include the prevalent diseases of the middle- and lower-income countries. Natural product extracts from plants are also not a part of large scale, ultrahigh-throughput screening programs in pharmaceutical industry.

What then is the vision for natural product research to maintain the choices of drug discovery and pharmaceutical development for future generations? In this presentation we will examine some facets of how natural products must be involved globally, in a sustainable manner, for improving health care. We will discuss access to the biome, the acquisition, analysis and dissemination of plant knowledge, natural product structure diversification, biotechnology development, strategies for natural product drug discovery, and aspects of multitarget therapy and synergy research. Options for the future are presented which may be significant as countries decide how to approach their own disease burden and the needs of their population for improved access to medicinal agents.

Keywords: natural products; sustainable drug discovery; biotechnology; structure diversification; rain forest resources; strategic implications