Natural product biosynthesis


Medicinal natural products: a biosynthetic approach, 2nd edition

By Paul M. Dewick. 507 + xii pages. Chichester, Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2002. £34.95 p/b. ISBN 0471 49641 3

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This is an admirable book containing a vast amount of information, in a very readable style, on natural product biosynthesis, biological activity and mode of action with background notes on primary metabolism, essential chemistry and biochemistry.

 The book aims, successfully, to impart an understanding of natural product structures and the way in which they are put together by living organisms. Subdivision of topics is predominantly by biosynthesis, not class or activity, and this works well in giving a logical sequence of structural types. Chemical schemes and mechanism are used extensively, with detailed mechanistic explanations being annotated to the schemes and comprehensive cross referencing emphasizing links and similarities. Where important classes of compounds or drugs are described there is more detailed information in the form of short separate monographs, which I found very interesting. The monograph information contains sources, production methods, principal components, drug use, mode of action, semisynthetic derivatives and synthetic analogues.

The book chapters cover the main building blocks and mechanisms used in the biosynthesis of secondary products, the acetate pathway (fatty acids and polyketides), shikimate pathway (aromatic amino acids and phenylpropanoids), mevalonate and deoxyxylulose phosphate pathways (terpenoids and steroids), alkaloids, peptides, proteins and other amino acid derivatives and carbohydrates. Chapters are subdivided into specific compound groups, pharmaceutically useful natural products with modes of action, and herbal product components with suggestions for further reading. The index is comprehensive.

Natural products are a proven source of valuable medicines and plant protection agents and with increased interest in natural products, this book is a very good resource. Mankind’s oldest medicines are natural products derived from plants, with continued use of some for at least 4000 yr in China, and others for at least 2000 yr in India, Pakistan or Europe. In the UK and other western countries, approx. 25% of the active components of current prescription drugs were first identified in higher plants and over 120 plant-derived chemical substances are used as the active ingredient in ethical drugs. Of the top 35 drugs sold worldwide in 2000, 13 were compounds derived from natural products with a combined sales turnover of > £25 bn. Drug discovery programmes in the last 10 yr have been largely dominated by synthetic chemicals coming from combinatorial chemical methods; natural products have been less favoured because of cost, purification, identification and synthesis issues. However, although synthetic compounds have superseded numerous old drugs, many natural products have never been surpassed. There is renewed interest in including natural products in discovery work; the natural selection process occurring over millions of years has selected for biological activity. Natural selection should mean that natural products are more likely to provide pharmacological activity than more randomly synthesized chemical libraries and therefore are more likely to provide new lead compounds.

There is increasing public interest in herbal products for therapeutic, cosmetic and food useage and as a result, modern pharmacy courses include a pharmacognosy component covering plant- and microbe-derived drugs. This book is an excellent reference book for pharmacy students interested in natural products and for anyone conducting research in the area.