Opportunities From Traditional Medicine

A review on discovery of novel products from plants should also briefly address the important role of plant extracts, which have been used in medicine since the beginning of mankind and still play an important role in modern medicine. The key issue for commercialization of herbal-based medicines is standardization and consistency of material. Adulteration or even contamination is a potential risk. However, recent successes of plant-derived products, increasing interest in Chinese and Indian medicine, and favorable regulations for commercialization have created a fast-growing market for herbal-based medicines and nutraceuticals (Table 2). In addition to most major pharmaceutical companies, several small companies are specializing in such products (a list of Internet addresses is given at the end of the reference list).

The early recipes used in traditional medicine were often the source of pure bioactive compounds used in pharmaceutical products. First examples of active principles identified from plants include morphine from Pa-paver somniferum, quinine from Cinchona sp., and salicin (salicylic acid) from Spirae ulmaria. More recent examples are atropine from Atropa belladonna, vincristine and vinblastine from Catharanthus roseus, and cardiac glycosides from Digitalis purpurea. Another famous example is the anticancer drug taxol, introduced by Bristol-Myers-Squibb in 1993. The great commercial success of this compound led to some renewed interest in plant secondary products and additional drugs have been successfully launched, e.g., anticancer derivatives of camptothecin, originally isolated from the Chi-

Table 2 Selection of Currently Most Popular Botanical Medicines and Some Examples of New Products Being Reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration

Plant species

Activity or indication area

Ginkgo biloba

Stimulation of peripheral circulation; cognitive

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