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A Nobel for Natural Product Discoveries

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October 07, 2015
Craig Hopp
D. Craig Hopp, Ph.D.

Program Director, Division of Extramural Research
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

View Dr. Hopp's biographical sketch

On October 5, Drs. Youyou Tu, William Campbell, and Satoshi Ōmura jointly received the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their seminal discoveries of the natural products avermectin and artemisinin. The announcement underscored something that NCCIH has been saying for many years, that natural products research is very important. Many drugs now on the market—such as digitalis, taxol, and vincristine—were originally derived from natural products.

Dr. Tu isolated artemisinin, an anti-malarial, from Artemisia annua, a plant that has been used in reducing fevers for centuries and is well documented in traditional Chinese medicine formularies. Drs. Campbell and Ōmura discovered the antibiotic avermectin when they screened Streptomycetes, microorganisms commonly found in soil, for natural products with anti-infectious activity. These two structurally and pharmacologically unique compounds and their derivatives have revolutionized the treatment of parasitic diseases. In the fight against the tropical infections that result in malaria, river blindness, and elephantiasis, these drugs have made a tremendous impact for the hundreds of millions who suffer these devastating diseases each year.

NCCIH congratulates Drs. Tu, Campbell, and Ōmura. This award not only recognizes their achievements but spotlights the rich resource of natural products that show promise in medicine and health.

Comments

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Yes, let’s recognize and be grateful for the achievements of these researchers. But let’s also recognize that there is nothing complementary, integrative, or novel about deriving medicines from natural products. Dr. Tu’s important efforts were important discoveries in pharmacognosy and medicinal chemistry, not efforts in traditional Chinese medicine, complementary medicine, integrative medicine, or any other phony categories of medicine labeled with euphemisms to give false legitimacy to non-validated (experimental at best) or invalidated products and services.See:http://edzardernst.com/2015/10/a-nobel-prize-for-tcm/http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2015/10/07/the-2015-nobel-prize-in-physiology-or-medicine-for-the-discoverer-of-artemisinin-a-triumph-of-natural-product-pharmacology-not-traditional-chinese-medicine/

I HAVE ENJOYED YOUR EMAILS AND HAVE FOUND THEM VERY INFORMATIVE AND LOOKING FORWARD TO MANY MORE. I HAVE BEEN INTERESTED IN MEDICINE FOR YEARS, MY FATHER WAS A DOCTOR AND LEARNED A LOT FROM HIM. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK. 

We, who have dedictaed our lives to work on natural products drug discovery, it is indeed a honor to know that finally such work is being recognized. Our sincere congratulations to the Nobel Prize winners and this is indeed a stimulus for the scientists in the world to continue to explore the marvels of rich and untapped sources of novel compounds in our biodiversity for their potential  use in human health. 

Congratulations to the Nobel awardees. My question (and concern) is how many natural origin molecules are now getting approved for marketing in major markets these days? Academic or private research must ultimately find markets to drive continued public spending or investor interest. For example, only two new “Botanical Drugs” have been approved in the last ten years since the Botanical Drug Product category was introduced by FDA in 2004. Not sure how it is in the other major markets and other types of categories that welcome natural entities. Not sure how many recent NCE approvals are at least built on nature-derived building blocks. If the market for such products is continuously shrinking or flat then my worry is that the Nobel prize won’t help. 

At a time of ever incressing unsustantiated claims related to natural products offered as the “cure all to end all”, it is great to hear about/read about science based information demonstatig the benefit of natural products.   It is especially interesting to read of research that involves the study of plants that have had a long suggested “medicinal” history.  In this case Artemisia annua.  Such research must continue to prove or DISPROVE the suggested benefits of the many natural products being offered to “treat”  a great variety of ills.

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