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Naturally derived medicinals: Where’s the business model?


Kola nut (cola acuminata) from Köhler's medicinal plants, 1887 (via trialsanderrors/Flickr)

It’s widely acknowledged that the pharmaceutical industry is in crisis. Pharma companies are seeing drugs coming off patent, competition from generics, diminished R&D success and increased cost pressures, all of which are contributing to the downfall of the blockbuster drug era. Various solutions have been proposed, including creating shared knowledge repositories to learn from failures and pairing treatments with companion biomarkers.

These solutions and others have merit. But I’d propose more emphasis on what I consider a major failing of the industry: the inability to effectively commercialize naturally derived compounds possessing therapeutic benefit.

Pharmaceutical companies have typically avoided naturally derived compounds because it is difficult to keep competitors out of the territory. Legislation such as the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act prohibits market exclusivity for natural compounds with known chemical compositions.

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