Experts on medicinal plants are to gather in London next month to discuss the potential and current hurdles for the herbal market and the development of novel medicines.
The three-day conference, organised by the Association of Applied Biologists and the UK's Institute of Horticulture, is a significant marker of the increasing value placed on traditional knowledge of plant-derived medicines.
Speakers are also likely to confirm the value of this resource in global developments in healthcare and new commercial products. Public, scientific and medical interest in this area has soared in recent years as the importance of the indigenous collective wisdom in the use of herbal preparations has been recognised. The application of biotechnology opens up new possibilities for the development of novel or more potent products.
Probably the greatest potential comes from an integrated approach using both natural and conventional medicines. However before the commercial potential is fully realised, there are still key issues that remain unresolved.
Organisers of the conference point to the environmental devastation caused by wild collection, the crucial and urgent requirement for large-scale cultivation, and the development of product production methods and quality assurance as major hurdles. There are also economic issues related to appropriate revenue sharing. News this week, from a BBC report, did reveal some progress however, as a South African people, the San, are apparently to receive profits from the appetite suppressant drug under development by UK company Phytopharm, which has been derived from a plant native to South Africa.
Speakers at the event will discuss the quality and safety of herbals, both from European perspectives and the US regulations. The clinical application of herbal medicines and the development of pharmaceutical products including novel pharmaceutical medicines from traditional plant remedies. There will also be presentations on exploiting natural sources for use in conventional medicines and foods, medicinal compounds and synergism of medicinal potency and plant biotechnology for health.
Papers from the conference will be published as abstracts in the Annals of Applied Biology. 'Medicinal Plants and their Uses' takes place at Imperial College, London from 23 - 25 April 2003. Email the AAB for more details.