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Ethno-pharma: An opportunity for India

Dr RB Smarta, MD, Interlink Consultancy opines that although India is actively exploring the space of ethno-pharma, concerted efforts are essential to boost research and create evidence for ethnomedicines with the help of technological advancements

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In the new normal scenario of healthcare, where the approaches are patient-centric and no longer product-centric, traditional and integrative medicinal practices are rooting for ‘ethno-pharmacy’. 

At the intersection of social and natural sciences, ethno-pharmacy is a field that focuses on traditional medicines (and pharmaceuticals) and their cultural determinants to investigate the possible use/perception of traditional medicines (and pharmaceuticals) in the culture. 

Often known as the ‘multidisciplinary scientific approach’, Ethno-pharma mainly deals with indigenous drugs and seeks to explore their relevance to modern healthcare. The traditional system of medicines is a complex, multi-parameter system. To understand this system, several holistic approaches are undertaken in the ethnopharma field. And these approaches seem to be extremely beneficial in innovating novel treatment strategies for the management of various chronic diseases. 

Following are some factors owing to which India could leverage some realistic opportunities in the field of ethnopharma in recent years:

Evolving research scenario of natural molecules

Ethnopharmacology, one of the allied branches of ethnomedicines, has an important role in establishing new research and development in traditional medicinal plants. Through these research approaches, numerous biological effects of several chemical groups in a wide variety of medicinal plants are investigated. 

Many of these plant actives are currently used in modern healthcare practices and the pharma industry is also exploring the opportunities in this area. Pharma companies are putting tremendous efforts to boost ethnopharmacological research in natural therapeutic ingredients as a huge number of actives of medicinal plants are part of pharma formulations that are used to treat critical diseases. Such efforts are mostly concentrated in the area of exploring viable sources of medicinal plants and the development of new novel molecules which are affordable and safe. 

Moreover, India has a heritage of medicinal plants and knowledge. Therefore, greater advancements in the research and development field of ethnopharma are expected in the coming years. 

Favourable attitudes toward natural products

One of the driving factors for this research and development in ethnomedicines could be the changing perspective of the patient toward traditional and natural medication in recent times. Several drawbacks of pharma products including side effects, addiction, cost, etc are influencing patients to rethink their reliance on chemical entities. 

Due to this shift in patient’s perspective along with other driving factors, the Indian traditional medicines market is expected to account for Rs 710.87 billion by 2024 growing at the CAGR of 16.06 per cent through Rs 300 billion in 2018. An astonishing growth of about Rs 34.197.9 million by 2027 is expected for Chinese traditional medicines as well. These figures show the growth potential of traditional ethnomedicines.

Keen interest groups in India for the betterment of ethno-pharma

In India, Society for Ethnopharmacology (SFE), registered under the West Bengal Society Registration act 1961, is working in the field of ethnopharmacology with esteemed researchers, academicians and, industry people, having a clear goal of ‘Globalization of local knowledge and localising global technologies’. For the greater spread of knowledge about natural health products, this society is actively operating in this area. 

In the Ayush system of medicines in India, Ayurveda and Homeopathy medicine practices are widely studied as compared to other medicine systems and these two traditional medicine systems have a strong connection with Ethnopharmacology. To boost the outreach of ethnopharmacology, Ayush is making several attempts to involve the ethnopharmacology model in the syllabus of alternative medicine systems. Moreover, there are approaches to introduce an individual course on this subject. Following are some of the institutes involved in Ethnopharmacological research in India-

  • Medicinal Plants Unit of ICMR
  • Natural Products Division of NIPER, Mohali
  • Institute of Traditional Medicine, ICMR, Bangalore
  • CSIR Institute of Integrative Medicine, Jammu
  • National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow
  • Dept of Pharmacology, PG Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh
  • Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (Postgraduate diploma in Ethnopharmacology)

Marching toward a better future for Indian ethno-pharma

Although India is actively exploring the space of Ethno-pharma, aggressive efforts are essential to boost research and create evidence for ethnomedicines with the help of technological advancements. Developing an agricultural economy with rare and highly effective her