Monday, November 2, 2009

50% of drugs used today had their origin in plants

I new from my readings that a number of drugs today had origins in herbs and plants. I new that foxglove, a potent and poisonous plant was used in treating heart conditions. Today the drug is still used under brand names such as Crystodigin and Lanoxi. But I never new it was so high until I read today that about 50% of drugs used had their origins in plants. This includes:
  • Aspirin - this was named by Bayer in 1899, A from Acetyl and "Spirsäure" from an old (German) name for salicylic acid. As it was a combination of the two. Salicylic acid was obtained from the bark of willow trees, which are classified with the Latin name Salix
  • Morphine - from the opium poppy
  • Quinine. This is the miracle substance that healed malaria. It comes from the bark of the Cinhona tree. This cure was discovered by the indigenous people of South America and the Spanish in  took it back to Europe in the 16th century.
  • Taxol. This is a significant anti cancer drug original from the Pacific Yew tree.
This was from a 1989 article so is 20 years old. The amount of effort that has gone into exploring further drugs from plants used in folk lore has increased dramatically over the last few decades. So I suspect that this figure would be true today. A significant issue with developing drugs from plants is figuring out what the active ingredient(s) are so it can be standardized and mass produced. It was not until 1971 that a Britsh scientist figured out how Asprin worked in the body and he was awarded the 1982 Nobel prize in medicine for this discovery. This was nearly 100 years since the drug made it to market!

Reference: Semple S., The antiviral properties of traditional Australian Aboriginal medicines. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society Australia, Vol 22 1998. Picture credit.

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