From time immemorial medicinal plants have been the source of many new drugs and the discovery of new molecules. With the systematic organisation of these plants and their uses, besides trying to find the active ingredients that are responsible for their medical action, the subject of pharmacognosy evolved and had stood the test of time and continues to be one of the most important resources for new drug discovery. However, with the changing scenario to develop new drugs at a faster rate along with lower costs, the synthetic pathway to develop drugs evolved. The technology for delivering drugs in the human body also underwent a paradigm shift and the era of biosimilars and biologicals almost swept the pharma industry from its feet. In this changing and challenging environment, the subject of pharmacognosy did not respond in time to look at newer approaches of understanding the drug discovery process and the newer scientific emphasis that was required in validation of scientific and therapeutic claims of such medicinal plants. Further, the sources of such medicinal plants continue to come from natural reserves rather than organised farming process. Unlike the Chinese system of traditional medicines, pharmacognosy in India did not integrate enough with the Indian system of medicine in providing the level of support that was expected of it. All these factors resulted in pharmacognosy not being one of the preferred subjects of study at advanced levels and led to the decreased number of human resource in this segment of the pharmacy profession.
Having said all this, it need not be overemphasised that nature would continue to be our resource for many drug discoveries and developments in the future. The need for the same is as rightly put — reengineering Pharmacognosy as a subject and make it exciting for students to take it up as a career choice. Some of the suggestions that are made and also being actively pursued by the Pharmacy Council of India includes:
- Integrating modern analytical techniques in the scientific validation of the medicinal plants and separation techniques.
- Development of standards for active ingredients of medicinal plants
- Herbal Pharmacovigilance
- Herbal Pharmacology
- Pharmaceutical technology for herbal products
- Newer approaches to drug discovery from natural products
- Understanding Indian systems of medicine and development of standards without affecting the fundamental basis on which the system is practiced
- Biotechnological basis for drug development
- Digital identification of medicinal plants and their active ingredients
The vision is to create excitement in the learning process while linking towards the goal of new drug discovery and career opportunities.
The Pharmacy Council of India is in the process of organising a series of workshops and seminars in this regard and would come up with a new curriculum in pharmacognosy at the masters level to be offered from the year 2019.