Bangalore: Ayurvedic medicine maker Himalaya Drug Co., which also markets nutritional supplements and personal-care products, intends to use its herbal repository to discover new drugs.
The city-based company has identified two new drug candidates to treat cancer and hepatitis-B, one of which it expects to launch as early as in 2009. The firm has already signed a preliminary agreement with two US universities to carry out toxicology and clinical studies.
Himalaya intends to skirt the long drug approval process by using the “crude extracts” derived from plants as medicine, and not synthesize them through the standard fermentation method that would require them to go through the regulatory gauntlet.
New frontier: Himalaya’s Prasad said the firm is lobbying with AYUSH department, which is trying to broaden the base of classical Ayurveda.
“We don’t want to purify the extracts, because the moment we purify, it’ll go into a 12- 14-year cycle (of standard drug approval),” said S.K. Mitra, director (R&D) at Himalaya.
“I think exploring standardized crude drug extracts is a smart strategy,” said Bhushan Patwardhan, director of the Interdisciplinary School of Health Sciences at the University of Pune, who leads a Council of Scientific and Industrial Research programme on Ayurveda-based herbal drug development.
The complex crude drugs can be extracted, preserved and analyzed with newer technologies, Mitra said.
Himalaya’s hopes are also tied to the health ministry’s department of Ayurveda, yoga and naturopathy, unnani, siddha and homeopathy (AYUSH), which is trying to broaden the base of classical Ayurveda to a new discipline called contemporary Ayurvedic medicine that would facilitate the industry’s efforts to launch new products.
“We are lobbying with the government for this and AYUSH is considering such a move,” said Ravi Prasad, Himalaya’s executive director. The department has already permitted the industry to use all excipients—inert substances that carry the active ingredients of drugs—approved by the US and British pharmacopeia in their products.
Past attempts to make traditional medicine the discovery engines of new chemical entities have not been successful. “Reverse pharmacology”, an approach Himalaya is adopting, where a firm goes from “clinic to lab”, is attractive and less risky, said Patwardhan.