Medicinal chemistry of bioactive natural products

Medicinal chemistry of bioactive natural products   

Xiao-Tian Liang and Wei-Shuo Fang (eds)    

New Jersey, US: Wiley-Interscience  2006 | 460pp | ?52.95 (HB) | ISBN 0471660078       

Reviewed by Jim Hanson 

The medicinal chemistry associated with biologically active natural products has made significant contributions to the development of organic chemistry, from the earliest studies in the 19th century on the characterisation of alkaloids such as quinine and morphine to present day synthetic studies. 

Each chapter in this book is devoted to a natural product or family of natural products of current interest. The editors are from the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and the authors of a number of the chapters are also from China, reflecting the rapid developments in medicinal chemistry that have taken place there. 

A couple of the chapters discuss recent advances in the structure-activity relationships of two important groups of anti-cancer drugs, the epothilones and the taxanes. Although these have a similar mode of action as microtubule inhibitors, their structure and chemistry are quite different. The discussion in these chapters and a chapter on the antibiotic vancomycin is directed quite specifically at the effect that structural modifications have on biological activity. 

Two chapters are concerned with the Chinese drugs, huperzine A, used to treat Alzheimer’s disease and artemisinin (qinghaosu), which is used to treat malaria. The historical and phytochemical background to the development of qinghaosu and to the ginkolides is very interesting.  

Two chapters are devoted to natural products with anti-HIV activity. There is a structural similarity between the dipyranocoumarins and the pyranocoumarins described in these two chapters and these might have been brought together. The anti-HIV activity of betulinic acid has also attracted much interest recently.  

In a multi-author book there are inevitably differences in the approach and style of the chapters. Some concentrate on structure-activity relationships and others on synthesis. Some questions that are rarely addressed are those concerning the ecological role of these natural products, their metabolism and their availability. It is also a pity that lessons learned from earlier decades of studies on bioactive natural products are not discussed. With some lapses, the English in these chapters is quite good. The compounds described in this book are current synthetic targets. Consequently it provides useful reading for those embarking on synthetic work in the area.