Magic Bullets vs. Promiscuous Plants

Magic Bullets vs. Promiscuous Plants
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The pharmaceutical industry is starting to shift away from designing single target drugs to trying to affect multiple pathways simultaneously, much like compounds made by plants, such as aspirin and curcumin—the pigment in the spice turmeric.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

“During the last decade, the [drug] industry has followed an assumption that a single drug hitting a single target was the ‘rational’ way to design drugs.” But, we’re learning that Mother Nature may be a bit more complicated than that. “Strategies for targeting…single genes or proteins ignore a very important fact that [the] most, if not all of diseases involve a sophisticated network ‘system.'” For example, one little “family of immune molecules” involves like 50 different keys fitting in 20 different locks, “often acting with redundancy, thus making selection of [an] appropriate specific drug” to antagonize one key or one lock may not work in the long run. A whole list of agents have been developed to target a specific molecule for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease, for example, but they have all failed. That’s why drug companies are now working on so-called “promiscuous drugs” that try to simultaneously affect multiple pathways.

“Meanwhile, since ancient times, natural agents derived from [plants—] fruits, vegetables, spices, [beans], and grains—have been preferred as potential therapeutics for most chronic diseases [not only] because of their safety, affordability, [and] long-term use, [but for their] ability to target multiple cell signaling pathways.” This “promiscuous targeting of a disease cell’s multiple bypass mechanisms is a therapeutic virtue.” 

One example of a successful promiscuous plant-based drug is aspirin. It doesn’t just target inflammation and offer pain relief, but can act as a blood thinner, and help prevent preeclampsia, and even some types of cancer. Curcumin is another hopeful. Aspirin is an extract of the willow tree bark. Curcumin is an extract of turmeric root. It’s considered so anti-inflammatory that it may even work through the skin. A traditional use was to wrap sprains and injury with turmeric-soaked poultices—a use that actually continues to this day. It is so anti-inflammatory it can help counter the effects of mustard gas.

Here is the response of spleen cells to an inflammatory cytokine, extinguished in the presence of curcumin. What about outside of a petri dish, though? “[P]romising effects have been observed in patients with [a variety of] inflammatory diseases.” And, one of the reasons there may be such a wide margin of safety with turmeric, despite its powerful pharmacological effects, is that the same pathway promiscuity that may account for its effectiveness may also act synergistically to neutralize side effects.

For example, “[t]urmeric has been traditionally used as…[a] bronchodilator” to open airways in conditions like asthma. Many of the adrenaline-like drugs that do the same thing can raise blood pressure, but the reason turmeric doesn’t may be because it has different “components with opposing activities,” so has like calcium channel-blocking effects that may actually lower blood pressure at the same time. And, so, side effects may cancel each other out.

This strength in promiscuity, though, is also a weakness. “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration…has been reluctant to approve plant extracts [which, by definition, are composed of] mixtures of different compounds.” So, it’s like a Catch-22. One drug, one chemical, one mechanism of action, and you can patent it, get FDA approval, and make a billion dollars. But, it may just not work very well. On the other hand, there might be a safe, natural alternative that works better, but industry and the government may not be interested.

However, there is hope on the horizon. Remember this video? The FDA approved a green tea ointment as a prescription drug for the treatment of genital warts, “making it the first prescription [plant] approved in the United States.”

So, have drug companies abandoned their model and started pouring money into plants? No. Having discovered that so-called “magic bullets have…been largely unsuccessful,” they just propose creating “non-selective drugs.” Instead of magic bullets, in effect, “magic shotguns.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Greg McMullin and The Knowles Gallery via flickr

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

“During the last decade, the [drug] industry has followed an assumption that a single drug hitting a single target was the ‘rational’ way to design drugs.” But, we’re learning that Mother Nature may be a bit more complicated than that. “Strategies for targeting…single genes or proteins ignore a very important fact that [the] most, if not all of diseases involve a sophisticated network ‘system.'” For example, one little “family of immune molecules” involves like 50 different keys fitting in 20 different locks, “often acting with redundancy, thus making selection of [an] appropriate specific drug” to antagonize one key or one lock may not work in the long run. A whole list of agents have been developed to target a specific molecule for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease, for example, but they have all failed. That’s why drug companies are now working on so-called “promiscuous drugs” that try to simultaneously affect multiple pathways.

“Meanwhile, since ancient times, natural agents derived from [plants—] fruits, vegetables, spices, [beans], and grains—have been preferred as potential therapeutics for most chronic diseases [not only] because of their safety, affordability, [and] long-term use, [but for their] ability to target multiple cell signaling pathways.” This “promiscuous targeting of a disease cell’s multiple bypass mechanisms is a therapeutic virtue.” 

One example of a successful promiscuous plant-based drug is aspirin. It doesn’t just target inflammation and offer pain relief, but can act as a blood thinner, and help prevent preeclampsia, and even some types of cancer. Curcumin is another hopeful. Aspirin is an extract of the willow tree bark. Curcumin is an extract of turmeric root. It’s considered so anti-inflammatory that it may even work through the skin. A traditional use was to wrap sprains and injury with turmeric-soaked poultices—a use that actually continues to this day. It is so anti-inflammatory it can help counter the effects of mustard gas.

Here is the response of spleen cells to an inflammatory cytokine, extinguished in the presence of curcumin. What about outside of a petri dish, though? “[P]romising effects have been observed in patients with [a variety of] inflammatory diseases.” And, one of the reasons there may be such a wide margin of safety with turmeric, despite its powerful pharmacological effects, is that the same pathway promiscuity that may account for its effectiveness may also act synergistically to neutralize side effects.

For example, “[t]urmeric has been traditionally used as…[a] bronchodilator” to open airways in conditions like asthma. Many of the adrenaline-like drugs that do the same thing can raise blood pressure, but the reason turmeric doesn’t may be because it has different “components with opposing activities,” so has like calcium channel-blocking effects that may actually lower blood pressure at the same time. And, so, side effects may cancel each other out.

This strength in promiscuity, though, is also a weakness. “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration…has been reluctant to approve plant extracts [which, by definition, are composed of] mixtures of different compounds.” So, it’s like a Catch-22. One drug, one chemical, one mechanism of action, and you can patent it, get FDA approval, and make a billion dollars. But, it may just not work very well. On the other hand, there might be a safe, natural alternative that works better, but industry and the government may not be interested.

However, there is hope on the horizon. Remember this video? The FDA approved a green tea ointment as a prescription drug for the treatment of genital warts, “making it the first prescription [plant] approved in the United States.”

So, have drug companies abandoned their model and started pouring money into plants? No. Having discovered that so-called “magic bullets have…been largely unsuccessful,” they just propose creating “non-selective drugs.” Instead of magic bullets, in effect, “magic shotguns.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Greg McMullin and The Knowles Gallery via flickr

Nota del Doctor

For more detail about the Catch-22, see Plants as Intellectual Property – Patently Wrong?

Aspirin isn’t found only in willow tree bark, but throughout the plant kingdom—including fruits and vegetables; see Aspirin Levels in Plant Foods.

Here’s the video about the green tea story: Treating Genital Warts with Green Tea. And, if you think that’s neat, check out Treating Gorlin Syndrome with Green Tea.

Power Plants shows how plant foods are not to be underestimated.

More on turmeric and inflammation here:

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