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The Search for New Drugs from Higher Plants

Marston, Andrew
Published in Chimia. 2007, vol. 61, no. 6, p. 322 - 326
Abstract Plants have a rich history as medicines for human use. Recently introduced plant-derived drugs include paclitaxel from Taxus (Taxaceae) species for the treatment of cancers, artemisinin for malaria therapy and the alkaloid galanthamine for the management of Alzheimer's disease. A judicious combination of chemical and biological screening techniques can provide a steady supply of lead compounds for the improved treatment of human ailments. By this means, candidate compounds can be rapidly selected for further development, as is the case for xanthones from gentians and coumarins from Peucedanum ostruthium (Apiaceae), which may be of relevance in Alzheimer's disease. Encouraging results are also being obtained for hypericin from Hypericum perforatum (Hypericaceae) in the photodynamic therapy of cancer. An aspect that must not be forgotten is that the usual biological screening procedures do not pick up prodrugs which have to be metabolized by the human body into active analogues. A good example is salicin from Salix species (Salicaceae) which is metabolized in the body to give the anti-inflammatory and analgesic compound salicylic acid. Investigations which include simulation of metabolism are thus of primordial importance.
Keywords Biological screeningChemical screeningLead compoundsMetabolismPlantsNatural-productsAcetylcholinesteraseInhibitorsDiscoveryHypericinCancer
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