Multicomponent phytotherapeutic approach gaining momentum: Is the "one drug to fit all" model breaking down?

Phytomedicine. 2013 Dec 15;21(1):1-14. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2013.07.015. Epub 2013 Sep 12.


Natural product based drugs constitute a substantial proportion of the pharmaceutical market particularly in the therapeutic areas of infectious diseases and oncology. The primary focus of any drug development program so far has been to design selective ligands (drugs) that act on single selective disease targets to obtain highly efficacious and safe drugs with minimal side effects. Although this approach has been successful for many diseases, yet there is a significant decline in the number of new drug candidates being introduced into clinical practice over the past few decades. This serious innovation deficit that the pharmaceutical industries are facing is due primarily to the post-marketing failures of blockbuster drugs. Many analysts believe that the current capital-intensive model-"the one drug to fit all" approach will be unsustainable in future and that a new "less investment, more drugs" model is necessary for further scientific growth. It is now well established that many diseases are multi-factorial in nature and that cellular pathways operate more like webs than highways. There are often multiple ways or alternate routes that may be switched on in response to the inhibition of a specific target. This gives rise to the resistant cells or resistant organisms under the specific pressure of a targeted agent, resulting in drug resistance and clinical failure of the drug. Drugs designed to act against individual molecular targets cannot usually combat multifactorial diseases like cancer, or diseases that affect multiple tissues or cell types such as diabetes and immunoinflammatory diseases. Combination drugs that affect multiple targets simultaneously are better at controlling complex disease systems and are less prone to drug resistance. This multicomponent therapy forms the basis of phytotherapy or phytomedicine where the holistic therapeutic effect arises as a result of complex positive (synergistic) or negative (antagonistic) interactions between different components of a cocktail. In this approach, multicomponent therapy is considered to be advantageous for multifactorial diseases, instead of a "magic bullet" the metaphor of a "herbal shotgun" might better explain the state of affairs. The different interactions between various components might involve the protection of an active substance from decomposition by enzymes, modification of transport across membranes of cells or organelles, evasion of multidrug resistance mechanisms among others.

Keywords: Blockbuster drugs; Combination therapy; Drug development; Phytotherapy; Synergism.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Drug Combinations*
  • Drug Design*
  • Drug Synergism*
  • Humans
  • Phytotherapy*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Drug Combinations