Plant Based Drugs and Medicines
By Leslie Taylor, ND
October 13, 2000
For more on this subject, also see Chapter 2 of The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs.
Today there are at least 120 distinct chemical substances derived from plants that are considered as important drugs currently in use in one or more countries in the world. These chemical substances are shown in the table below. Several of the drugs sold today are simple synthetic modifications or copies of the naturally obtained substances. The original plant substance/chemical name is shown under the "Drug" column rather than the finished patented drug name. For example, many years ago a plant chemical was discovered in a tropical plant, Cephaelis ipecacuanha, and the chemical was named emetine. A drug was developed from this plant chemical called Ipecac which was used for many years to induce vomiting mostly if someone accidently swallowed a poisonous or harmful substance. Ipecac can still be found in pharmacies in many third world countries but has been mostly replaced by other drugs in the United States. Another example of this is the plant chemical named taxol shown in the drug column below. The name taxol is the name of the plant chemical orginally discovered in the plant. A pharmaceutical company copied this chemical and patented a drug named Paclitaxel™ which is used in various types of tumors today in the U.S. and many other countries.
The 120 substances shown below are sold as drugs worldwide but not in all countries. Some European countries regulate herbal sustances and products differently than in the United States. Many European countries, including Germany, regulate herbal products as drugs and pharmaceutical companies prepare plant based drugs simply by extracting out the active chemicals from the plants. A good example is the plant substance/drug shown below, cynarin. Cynarin is a plant chemical found in the common artichoke (Cynara scolymus). In Germany, a cynarin drug is sold for liver problems and hypertension which is simply this one chemical extracted from the artichoke plant or a plant extract which has been standardized to contain a specific milligram amount of this one chemical. These products are manufactured by pharmaceutical companies, sold in pharmacies in Germany and a doctor's prescription is required to purchase them. In the United States artichoke extracts are available as natural products and sold in health food stores. Some products are even standardized to contain a specific amount of the cynarin chemical. You can purchase these natural and standardized extracts over the counter without a prescription and you could not go to a pharmacy in the U.S. and obtain a cynarin drug with a prescription. Another similar example is the plant chemical, silymarin, shown in the drug column below. Silymarin is a chemical found in the milk thistle plant and natural milk thistle extracts standarized to contain specific amounts of silymarin are found in just about every health food store in the United States. However in Germany, silymarin drugs and milk thistle standardized extracts are sold only in pharmacies and require a doctor's prescription for liver problems.
Some of the drug/chemicals shown below are still sold as plant based drugs requiring the processing of the actual plant material. Others have been chemically copied or synthesized by laboratories and no plant materials are used in the manufacture of the drug. A good example of this is the plant chemical quinine, which was discovered in a rainforest tree (Cinchona ledgeriana) over 100 years ago. For many years the quinine chemical was extracted from the bark of this tree and processed into pills to treat malaria. Then a scientist was able to synthesize or copy this plant alkaloid into a chemical drug without using the original tree bark for manufacturing the drug. Today, all quinine drugs sold are manufactured chemically without the use of any tree bark. However, another chemical in the tree called quinidine which was found to be useful for various heart conditions couldn't be completely copied in the laboratory and the tree bark is still harvested and used to extract this plant chemical from it. Quinidine extracted from the bark is still used today to produce quinidine-based drugs. In the U.S. there are four patented brand-name heart drugs sold in pharmacies containing bark-extracted quinidine: Cardioquin™, Quinaglute Dura-tabs™, Quinidex Extentabs™ and Quin-Release™.
The following table below will help you begin your research on drugs made from plants. We don't have the time or resources to provide a full comprehensive list of all patented drug names and herbal drugs sold in other countries. The chemical/drug names and plant names will give you enough to start on to continue your research on important plant based drugs and medicines.
||Skeletal muscle relaxant
||Skeletal muscle relaxant
||Antitumor agent, anti-gout
||Sweetener, Addison's disease
||Anticancer, antitumor agent
|Lanatosides A, B, C
||Smoking deterrant, respiratory
||Antitumor agent (topical)
||Smooth muscle relaxant
||Antitumor anticancer agent
|Protoveratrines A, B
||Analagesic, sedative, traquillizer
||Dental plaque inhibitor
|Sennosides A, B
||Antiemetic, decrease occular
||Analgesic, sedative, traquillizer
||Theobroma cacao and others|
||Antitumor, anticancer agent
||Skeletal muscle relaxant
||Antitumor, Antileukemic agent
||Antitumor, Antileukemic agent
CANCER AND AIDS RESEARCH
Searching for the cures
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has several ongoing collabrative programs which screen plants for the possiblility of new drugs and active plant chemicals for cancer and AIDS/HIV.
Because well over 50 percent of the estimated 250,000 plant species found on
earth come from tropical forests, NCI concentrates on these regions. Plants
have been collected from the African countries of Cameroon, the Central
African Republic, Gabon, Ghana, Madagascar, and Tanzania. Collections are now
concentrated in Madagascar (one of the most rapidly dissappearing rainforest regions in the world), and collaborative programs have been established in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
In Central and South America, samples have been collected from Belize,
Bolivia, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Guyana,
Honduras, Martinique, Paraguay, Peru, and Puerto Rico. The NCI has
established collaborative programs in Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Panama.
Southeast Asian collections have been performed in Bangladesh, Indonesia,
Laos, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Taiwan,
Thailand, and Vietnam. Collaborative programs have been established in
Bangladesh, China, Korea, and Pakistan. In each country, NCI contractors work
in close collaboration with local botanical institutions.
These collabrative programs include the following:
- The South American Organization for Anticancer Drug Development
(SOAD) in Porto Alegre, Fundacao Oswaldo Cruz-FIOCRUZ in Rio de
Janeiro, and the University Paulista in Sao Paulo investigate plants from Brazil.
- The Institute of Biological Diversity (INBio) in Costa Rica studies
insects and plants.
- The Institute of Chemistry, National University of Mexico, studies
- The Kunming Institute of Botany in China studies Chinese medicinal
- The Korean Research Institute of Chemical Technology examines Korean
- The H.E.J. Institute of Chemistry, University of Karachi, studies
- The University of Dhaka in Bangladesh studies plants and microbes.
- University of Panama studies Panamanian medicinal plants.
- Brigham Young University (Dr. Paul Cox) studies Polynesian medicinal
- Tel Aviv University (Dr. Yoel Kashman) studies Red Sea marine
- The New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research
studies marine organisms.
- The Cancer Research Center at the Russian Academy of Medical
Sciences in Moscow studies Russian medicinal plants.
- The Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association and the
University of Zimbabwe study Zimbabwean medicinal plants.
- The South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research
studies South African plants.
Thus far seven plant-derived anticancer drugs have received Food and
Drug Administration (FDA) approval for commercial production:
Since 1986, over 40,000 plant samples have been screened, but thus far only
five chemicals showing significant activity against AIDS have been isolated. Three are currently in preclinical development. Before being considered for clinical trials in humans, these agents must show tolerable levels of toxicity in several animal models.
For AIDS, three agents are presently in preclinical or early clinical
development. The following are plants and chemicals which are still under research for cancer and AIDS/HIV:
- Taxol / Paclitaxel
A chemical discovered in the Pacific Yew tree (Taxus brevifolia) is now the first drug of choice in several tumorous cancers including Breast Cancer.
A chemical discovered in the Madagascar Periwinkle in the 1950s. Vinblastine is the first drug of choice in many forms of leukemia and since the 1950's it has increased the survival rate of childhood leukemias by 80%
Another antileukemic drug discovered in the Madagascar periwinkle.
Has been approved by the FDA for the treatment of ovarian and small cell lung cancers. It is currently in clinical trials, either alone or in combination with other anticancer drugs, for several types of cancer. Topotecan is a analog (a synthesized chemical) of a plant alkaloid discovered in the Chinese tree species, Camptotheca acuminata
Another chemical analog which has been developed from yet another plant alkaloid discovered in the same tree Camptotheca acuminata. It has been approved by the FDA for
the treatment of metastatic colorectal cancer. It is currently in
clinical trials for a variety of other cancers.
A semisynthetic derivative of a plant chemical epipodophyllotoxin discovered in the Mayapple plant family (Podophyllum peltatum)
Another semisynthetic derivative of a plant chemical discovered in the Mayapple plant family (Podophyllum peltatum).
- (+)-Calanolide A and (-)-Calanolide B (costatolide) are isolated
from Calophyllum lanigerum and Calophyllum teysmanii, respectively,
trees found in Sarawak, Malaysia.
Both these agents are licensed to Medichem, Inc., Chicago, which is
developing them in collaboration with the Sarawak State Government
through a joint company, Sarawak Medichem Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
(+)-Calanolide A is currently in early clinical trials in the United
- Conocurovone, isolated from the shrub species, Conospermum incurvum
(saltbush), found in Western Australia, has been licensed for
development to AMRAD, a company based in Victoria, Australia.
- Michellamine B, from the leaves of Ancistrocladus
korupensis, a vine found in the Korup rainforest region of southwest
Cameroon, has undergone extensive preclinical study, but is
considered too toxic for advancement to clinical trials.
- Prostratin, isolated from the wood of Homolanthus nutans, a tree
found in Western Samoa, has been placed on low priority, largely due
to its association with a class of compounds shown to be tumor
- A tree native to China--Camptotheca acuminata--is the source of four
promising anticancer drugs, two of which have been approved by the
FDA and are described above. The other two chemicals still under research include:
- 9AC (9-aminocamptothecin): Currently in clinical trials for several
types of cancer, including ovarian and stomach cancers and T-cell
- Camptothecin: While no clinical trials are being performed in the
United States, trials are ongoing in China.
- Homoharringtonine from the Chinese tree, Cephalotaxus harringtonia are in early clinical trials.
- Perillyl alcohol, and flavopiridol, a totally synthetic compound based on a flavone isolated from Dysoxylum binectiferum are in early clinical trials.
The above text has been authored by Leslie Taylor, Milam County, Texas 77857 and copyrighted © 2000. All rights reserved. Please refer to the Copyright Statement on permitted uses of this document.
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Last updated 12-24-2012