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Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Volume 2013 (2013), Article ID 627375, 25 pages
Review Article

New Perspectives on How to Discover Drugs from Herbal Medicines: CAM's Outstanding Contribution to Modern Therapeutics

1School of Chinese Medicine, Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, Beijing 100102, China
2College of Pharmacy,University of South Florida, Tampa, FL 33612, USA
3School of basic medicine, Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, Beijing 100102, China
4School of Chinese Medicine, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong
5Department of Chemistry, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong
6Department of Applied Biology & Chemical Technology, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong
7Division of Life Science, Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, Hong Kong

Received 16 September 2012; Accepted 29 January 2013

Academic Editor: Hyunsu Bae

Copyright © 2013 Si-Yuan Pan et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


With tens of thousands of plant species on earth, we are endowed with an enormous wealth of medicinal remedies from Mother Nature. Natural products and their derivatives represent more than 50% of all the drugs in modern therapeutics. Because of the low success rate and huge capital investment need, the research and development of conventional drugs are very costly and difficult. Over the past few decades, researchers have focused on drug discovery from herbal medicines or botanical sources, an important group of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapy. With a long history of herbal usage for the clinical management of a variety of diseases in indigenous cultures, the success rate of developing a new drug from herbal medicinal preparations should, in theory, be higher than that from chemical synthesis. While the endeavor for drug discovery from herbal medicines is “experience driven,” the search for a therapeutically useful synthetic drug, like “looking for a needle in a haystack,” is a daunting task. In this paper, we first illustrated various approaches of drug discovery from herbal medicines. Typical examples of successful drug discovery from botanical sources were given. In addition, problems in drug discovery from herbal medicines were described and possible solutions were proposed. The prospect of drug discovery from herbal medicines in the postgenomic era was made with the provision of future directions in this area of drug development.