Reverse ethnopharmacology and drug discovery

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ETHNOPHARMACOLOGICAL RELEVANCE: Ethnopharmacological investigations of traditional medicines have made significant contributions to plant-derived drugs, as well as the advancement of pharmacology. Drug discovery from medicinal flora is more complex than generally acknowledged because plants are applied for different therapeutic indications within and across cultures. Therefore we propose the concept of “reverse ethnopharmacology” and compare biomedical uses of plant taxa with their ethnomedicinal and popular uses and test the effect of these on the probability of finding biomedical and specifically anticancer drugs. MATERIALS AND METHODS: For this analysis we use data on taxonomy and medical indications of plant derived biomedical drugs, clinical trial, and preclinical trial drug candidates published by Zhu et al. (2011) and compare their therapeutic indications with their ethnomedicinal and popular uses as reported in the NAPRALERT® database. Specifically, we test for increase or decrease of the probability of finding anticancer drugs based on ethnomedicinal and popular reports with Bayesian logistic regression analyses. RESULTS: Anticancer therapy resulted as the most frequent biomedicinal indication of the therapeutics derived from the 225 drug producing higher plant taxa and showed an association with ethnomedicinal and popular uses in women's medicine, which was also the most important popular use-category. Popular remedies for dysmenorrhoea, and uses as emmenagogues, abortifacients and contraceptives showed a positive effect on the probability of finding anticancer drugs. Another positive effect on the probability of discovering anticancer therapeutics was estimated for popular herbal drugs associated with the therapy of viral and bacterial infections, while the highest effect was found for popular remedies used to treat cancer symptoms. However, this latter effect seems to be influenced by the feedback loop and divulgence of biomedical knowledge on the popular level. CONCLUSION: We introduce the concept of reverse ethnopharmacology and show that it is possible to estimate the probability of finding biomedical drugs based on ethnomedicinal uses. The detected associations confirm the classical ethnopharmacological approach where a popular remedy for disease category X results in a biomedical drug for disease category X but does also point out the existence of cross-over relationships where popular remedies for disease category X result in biomedical therapeutics for disease category Y (Zhu et al., 2011).
Biodiversity, Bioprospecting, Traditional medicine, Drug discovery, Anticancer, Women's medicine
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Leonti, M., Stafford, G. I., Cero, M. D., Cabras, S., Castellanos, M. E., Casu, L. & Weckerle, C. S. (2017). Reverse ethnopharmacology and drug discovery. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 198, pp. 417–431.