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Chemistry needs a new formula for success

Many large pharmaceutical companies are finding that their product pipelines are no longer as healthy as 20, or even 10, years ago. It now takes more than 10 years for a potential drug to be translated from an idea into a commercial product on a chemist's counter. So, if the present pipeline is looking thin, in the next decade it might be even thinner. Can anything be done? As my colleague Iqbal Choudhary writes elsewhere in this supplement, my own field of study, the chemistry of natural products, could step in and provide some help. Yet, we need to do two things, and quickly. The first is to accelerate our understanding of the medicinal properties of natural products. Nature has been the main source for our medicine cabinets for millennia, and there is still much that we can learn. Second, we need a 'paradigm shift' in the field of medicinal chemistry itself — the reductive model needs to give way to a more holistic one. Until now, the convention among researchers in the private and public sectors has been to isolate individual medicinal compounds from natural products, and then to coat them in a pill or dissolve them in a syrup. Yet when, for example, you eat an apple or a fig, you are not ingesting a single compound, but hundreds if not thousands. It is this idea that we need to take on board if we truly want to mimic nature. Thanks to advances in technology, the tools are at our disposal to discover a whole new generation of medicines. Thanks to growing scientific expertise in the developing world, such efforts are likely to be truly global in scope. We are living through some of the most exciting times in the development of natural product chemistry. Our ability to use modern scientific tools in understanding nature's gifts has never been brighter.

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Atta-ur-Rahman Chemistry needs a new formula for success. Nature 456, 33 (2008).

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