March 16, 2007 -- Nature has been the source or inspiration of most new drugs created in the last quarter century.
That's according to David Newman, DPhil, and Gordon Cragg, PhD. They work in the natural products branch of the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
Newman and Cragg reviewed all new drugs approved from January 1981 through June 2006 for all diseases worldwide. The list included 1,184 new drugs for a wide range of conditions.
Thirty percent of the new drugs were totally synthetic in origin. The other 70% were derived from or similar to chemicals found in nature, according to the researchers.
That doesn't mean that the nature-derived drugs were identical to nature's chemicals. In many cases, scientists had tweaked the chemicals for medicinal purposes.
"Much of nature's 'treasure trove of small molecules' remains to be explored," write Newman and Cragg. They note that the sea and microbes may hold promise for new drugs.
Newman and Cragg write that they "strongly advocate expanding, not decreasing, the exploration of nature" in the search for new drugs.
Their review appears in the Journal of Natural Products.