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Natural Products Analysis in Lead Discovery

Natural products (also known as secondary metabolites) and their derivatives have historically been invaluable and a rich source of compounds for drug discovery. Researchers are pushing the boundaries for natural product research, from solving complex structural questions to developing a high-throughput screening method for quality control of natural products.

The study of natural products has been highly recognised and lead to the discovery of a variety of useful drugs for the treatment of diverse ailments. Small molecule structure elucidation is an innovative technique that can accelerate the workflow during the elucidation process by automating many of the key analysis and interpretation steps, resulting in simple and efficient structure elucidation of small molecules in drug discovery and natural products research. Additionally, biosynthetic pathways analysis or fingerprinting are essential practices to verify the identity of plant materials collected for use as herbal products.

Metabolomics is a well-established rapidly developing research field involving quantitative and qualitative metabolite assessment within biological systems. Recent improvements in metabolomics technologies reveal the unequivocal value of metabolomics tools in natural products discovery among others. Metabolomics represents a highly adaptable technology and is shown to provide an increasing role in both elucidating biosynthetic transformations of natural products and detecting preclinical biomarkers of numerous disease states.

NMR spectroscopy is a powerful technique for identifying and quantifying components in complex mixtures, such as plant extracts: provides a fast and highly reproducible means for identity, purity, strength and composition verification; thereby providing product assessment and quality control analysis in what is an exciting regulatory environment. There is an increased focus on quality control and rigorous testing to prevent adulteration in natural products and supplements. The global nutraceutical market was estimated to be $140.1 billion US dollars in 2010. Concerns have arisen over the increasing cases of adulterated products in the market which threaten the health of the consumer and the continual growth for the nutraceutical industry. US rulings such as the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), the 2007 Good Manufacturing Practice of Dietary Rule and comparable rules from other countries have set guidelines to ensure product safety and manufacturing compliance.   Traditional analytical techniques for nutraceuticals include HPLC, TLC, Raman, GC-MS and NIR.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) herbs and manufactured products have been used for thousands of years for preventing and treating disease. However, there is caution in medical R&D and the medical community to prescribe traditional therapeutics for the management of disease due to dubious claims that seem all too common in the dietary supplement industry. Clinical analysis of herbal preparations is essential for helping to identify the active ingredients in traditional Chinese medicines to make new drugs.