Abstract Present-day drug development is strongly focused on finding active compounds on well-defined targets using high throughput screening approaches. Unfortunately it seems that this approach is becoming less and less successful, as in most cases already good compounds are on the market, and the rapidly rising costs of drug development will make it increasingly difficult to make an economically competitive novel drug for any major disease. In other words, the reductionist approach presently used is becoming less successful. The time has come to rethink drug development. Many Western medicines are based on traditional knowledge from Europe and the Mediteranean region. This is why interest is rapidly increasing in Indian and Chinese medicine, both of which represent a very long tradition of apparently safe use. However, these healthcare systems are different from Western medicine, so novel methods are required to verify the efficacy and safety of the therapies. As it often concerns personalized medication with complex mixtures, a reductionist approach of screening for a single active compound on a known target will in many cases not be successful, as more than one target may be involved; in addition, and complicating the situation even more, synergism and prodrugs may be involved. Systems biology as a novel holistic way of dealing with biological problems seems here an interesting option. Systems biology means proceeding without a hypothesis, just observing, measuring as many parameters as possible in a biological system and afterwards using chemometrics to reveal any meaning in the data. This approach has already proven successful in studying medicinal plants and, in combination with the classical natural-product-based drug lead finding, is expected to be a major issue in the coming years. As present-day patent laws require innovative and unexpected findings, the development of old knowledge does not fit this requirement. Therefore, to support the development of evidence-based traditional medicines, it would be of great interest if some sort of protection could be obtained for companies developing such medicines so that they could earn back their huge R&D investments.
Department of Pharmacognosy, Section Metabolomics, Institute of Biology Leiden, PO Box 9502, 2300RA Leiden, The Netherlands e-mail: [email protected]
K.G. Ramawat (ed.), Herbal Drugs: Ethnomedicine to Modern Medicine, DOI 10.1007/978-3-540-79116-4.1, © Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2009
Keywords Herbal medicines • Traditional medicine • Systems biology
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