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Pure Appl. Chem., 2005, Vol. 77, No. 1, pp. 7-24

Biodiversity: A continuing source of novel drug leads

Gordon M. Cragg* and David J. Newman

Natural Products Branch, Developmental Therapeutics Program, 206 Fairview Center, NCI-Frederick, P.O. Box B, Frederick, MD 21702-1201, USA

Abstract: Nature has been a source of medicinal agents for thousands of years and continues to be an abundant source of novel chemotypes and pharmacophores. With only 5 to 15 % of the approximately 250 000 species of higher plants systematically investigated, and the potential of the marine environment barely tapped, these areas will remain a rich source of novel bioactive compounds. Less than 1 % of bacterial and 5 % of fungal species are currently known, and the potential of novel microbial sources, particularly those found in extreme environments, seems unbounded. To these natural sources can be added the potential to investigate the rational design of novel structure types within certain classes of microbial metabolites through genetic engineering. It is apparent that Nature can provide the novel chemical scaffolds for elaboration by combinatorial approaches (chemical and biochemical), thus leading to agents that have been optimized on the basis of their pharmacological activities. The proven natural product drug discovery track record, coupled with the continuing threat to biodiversity through the destruction of terrestrial and marine ecosystems and the current low number of new chemical entities in pharmaceutical industry pipelines, provides a compelling argument in favor of expanded multidisciplinary and international collaboration in the exploration of Nature as a source of novel leads for the development of drugs and other valuable bioactive agents.