Drug discovery and natural products: end of an era or an endless frontier?

Science. 2009 Jul 10;325(5937):161-5. doi: 10.1126/science.1168243.


Historically, the majority of new drugs have been generated from natural products (secondary metabolites) and from compounds derived from natural products. During the past 15 years, pharmaceutical industry research into natural products has declined, in part because of an emphasis on high-throughput screening of synthetic libraries. Currently there is substantial decline in new drug approvals and impending loss of patent protection for important medicines. However, untapped biological resources, "smart screening" methods, robotic separation with structural analysis, metabolic engineering, and synthetic biology offer exciting technologies for new natural product drug discovery. Advances in rapid genetic sequencing, coupled with manipulation of biosynthetic pathways, may provide a vast resource for the future discovery of pharmaceutical agents.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Biological Products* / chemistry
  • Biological Products* / metabolism
  • Biological Products* / pharmacology
  • Biotechnology / methods
  • Combinatorial Chemistry Techniques
  • Drug Approval
  • Drug Design
  • Drug Discovery* / economics
  • Drug Discovery* / methods
  • Drug Discovery* / trends
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical
  • Drug Industry / economics
  • Drug Industry / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Molecular Structure
  • Plants / chemistry
  • Technology, Pharmaceutical* / methods
  • Technology, Pharmaceutical* / trends


  • Biological Products