Greater investment in research on natural products and herbal medicines with a potential to treat COVID-19 is needed
A group of leading GA members calls for adequate funding is made available to ascertain that the potential of natural products and herbal medical products is explored in greater detail. In a short overview the team led by Prof. A. Hensel (Univ. Muenster) highlights scientific opportunities in the treatment of coronaviruses and specifically COVID-19.
The current pandemic poses a global challenge and there is a need not only to treat the infection as such, but also the numerous pathological symptoms caused by the infection. While there is a considerable interest by the general public, funding for this type of research is limited Nature provides a huge reservoir of anti-infectious compounds, from which we can deduce innovative ideas, therapies and products. Anti-adhesive natural products interact with the receptor-mediated recognition and early interaction of viruses with the host cells, leading to a reduced internalisation of the virus and reduced infections (e.g. procyanidin-B-2-di-O-gallate against influenza and herpes virus). Lignans like podophyllotoxin and bicyclol show strong antiviral activities against different virus, and essential oils can directly interact with viral membranes and reduce the host’s inflammatory responses (e.g. 1,8-cineol). Echinacea extracts stimulate the immune system, and bioavailable alkamides are key players by interacting with immunomodulating cannabinoid receptors.
COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 infections have in part successfully been treated in China by preparations from Traditional Chinese Medicine and, while it is too early to draw conclusions, some promising data are available. There is huge potential, but intensified research is needed to develop evidence-based medicines with a clearly defined chemical profile. Intensified research and development, and therefore, funding is needed for exploiting nature’s reservoir against viral infections.
Combined action for basic research, chemistry, pharmacognosy, virology, clinical studies, but also supply chain, sustainable sourcing, and economic aspects have to be considered.
Last but not least the pandemic impacts on the supply of botanical raw materials and most notably herbal medicines. Here, too, enormous efforts for research and development are needed.
This review calls for intensified innovative science on natural products, for the patients and for a healthier world!
Hensel A, Bauer R, Heinrich M, Spiegler V, Kayser O, Hempel G, Kraft K. (2020) Challenges at the Time of COVID-19: Opportunities and Innovations in Antivirals from Nature.Planta Med. 2020 May 20. doi: 10.1055/a-1177-4396
Contacts: Prof. Dr. Andreas Hensel, Institute of Pharmaceutical Biology and Phytochemistry, University of Münster, Corrensstraße 48, 48149 Münster, Germany. Phone: +49 251 8333381; Fax +49 251 8338341. E-mail:
The GA (Society for Medicinal Plant and Natural Product Research) is dedicated to the scientific exchange of information about medicinal plants, their pharmacology; the phytochemistry, biosynthesis and biotechnology of natural products, and related fields to basic and applied research on medicinal plants and natural products. One of our key aims is to foster research and disseminate information about evidence based medical uses of natural substances.
This press release provides information and an assessment of the current scientific evidence for scientific, educational and non-commercial use. It is for the purpose of disseminating information only and does not constitute and form of advice.