More on Drugs Discovered Through Ancient Texts

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Folk medicine and natural products have long been a source for drugs. Aspirin, from chewing the bark of the willow tree, was prescribed for headaches by Hippocrates 2,400 years ago ( Flemings accidental discovery of penicillin in 1928 is a well known story ( that led to one of the first miracle drugs. These are just 2 examples of the benefits of natural products research.

Up until the 1990's natural product research was still common in pharmaceutical and biotech companies. However, it became out of favor do to the slowness of discovery when the industry went to high throughput screening and small molecule discovery. Difficulties in isolating, identifying and synthesizing large molecules also resulted in shutting down many natural product programs. (These are personnel observations and other opinions are welcome).

Is this about to change? Two recent postings in LabAutopedia may indicate that a resurgence of natural product research is possible. The first article was on a mixture from a 1000 year old Anglo Saxon text that was active against MRSA. The second was the 2015 Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicines shared by Tu Youyou [1] for her work in finding a new anti-malaria drug artemisinin (see Nobel Prizes 2015). This was found by searching ancient text and interviewing practioners of traditional medicine. How much more might be discovered by revisiting the past and believing in the accumulated knowledge of folk medicine?

What might still be found by testing extracts of mold, bacteria or sea organisms, investigating leads from ancient texts or following-up on the wisdom of traditional folk medicine? The problems with discovering and developing natural products have not changed. However, new drugs are badly needed, particularly antibiotics as resistant strain of bacteria continue to increase. Also see the article in livescience at