The process of drug development from ethnomedicine or Ethnopharmacology typically begins with a botanist, ethnobotanist, ethnopharmacologist or plant ecologist, who collects and identifies plant(s) of interest.[6
] The ethnopharmacologic approach is based on botany, chemistry and pharmacology (observation, identification, description and experimental investigation); however, other disciplines have also made vital contributions. Based on these considerations, ethnopharmacology is defined as ‘the interdisciplinary scientific exploration of biologically active agents traditionally employed or observed by man’. The objectives of ethnopharmacology are to rescue and document important cultural heritage before it is lost, and to investigate and evaluate agents employed. Thus, it plays an immense role in the evaluation of natural products, and more particularly herbal drugs from traditional and folklore resources. Field observations, and descriptions of the use and effects of traditional remedies, botanical identification and phytochemical and pharmacological studies, are all within the scope of ethnopharmacology.[7
Ethnopharmacology is far more than a science of the past using outmoded approaches. It still constitutes the scientific backbone for the development of active therapeutics based on traditional medicines of various ethnic groups. It has the ultimate aim of validating traditional preparations, either through the isolation of active substances, or through various pharmacological findings.[9
] The use of Ayurvedic drugs and formulations has always been an integral part of the treatment of different ailments in diverse communities across India. Research leads on Ayurvedic drugs have yielded numerous drug candidates that are now common in commercial markets. Many plants with potential therapeutic activity were first widely used as Ayurvedic medicines .
Several Ayurvedic plant drugs used in TM for different ailments
The Government of India has taken effective steps to develop the quality, safety, efficacy and practice of herbal medicine along with several regulatory measures. In fact, several modern drugs used in the treatment of significant ailments have been developed from Indian medicinal plants. These include the likes of reserpine, from Rauwolfia serpentina
(L.) Benth. ex Kurz, withanolide from Withania somenifera
Dunal, curcumin from Curcuma longa
L quinine from Cinchona officinalis
L., sennoside from Cassia angustifolia
, glycyrrhizin from Glycyrrhiza glabra
L., and psoralen from Ruta graveolens
] Further, several lead molecules have been isolated from ISM in our laboratory, such as betulinic acid from Nelumbo nucifera
[immunomodulatory agent], β-Asarone from Acorus calamus
L. [AChE inhibitor], mahanimbine from Murrya koenigii
[AChE inhibitor] and tilianin from Semecarpus anacardium
] and their stated pharmacological activities confirmed.
Development of drugs from Ayurvedic plants continues, with drug companies engaged in large-scale pharmacologic screening of herbs. The ‘Sushruta-Samhita’ notes that the plant Commiphora mukul Hook was useful in the treatment of obesity and equivalent ailments. Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) is traditionally used as an adaptogen. This is also known as ‘Indian Ginseng’ stimulating the body's immune system, and reducing inflammation. Combining the strengths of the knowledge base systems of traditional complementary and alternative medicine, such as Ayurveda, with the dramatic power of combinatorial sciences, and high throughput screening, will help in the generation of structure–activity libraries, leading to identification of active molecules. This can further be explored through clinical trials, various pharmacological studies, herbal therapeutics, pharmacokinetics and herbal pharmacovigilance. The confluence in recent years of spectacular advances in chemistry, molecular biology, genomics and chemical technology, and the related fields of spectroscopy, chromatography and crystallography, may influence several therapeutically potent lead molecules from traditional medicine.