Forests and Human Health December-20-2013

How far is it from ‘forest’ to ‘pharmacy’?

Lu-Min Vaario, PhD
The Finnish Forest Research Institute

A large share of current medication originated in the forest. Many tree species and mushrooms are a rich source of bioactive medicinal compounds. Developing new medications from the basis of novel bioactive compounds from the forest has become more and more attractive because the future bio-economy needs to find a way to utilize our forest in a sustainable way. However, how far is this path from raw materials in the forest to products in the pharmacy? We posed this question during an interview with Mr. Kari Lehmussaari, CEO of Science and Technology Forum Oy, Finland, during the European Forest Week in Rovaniemi.

Mr. Lehmussaari has more than 25 years of experience in the domestic and international pharmaceutical industry, where he has held various research and development positions. For approximately the last 15 years, he has worked for Santen, an international pharmaceutical company specialized in eye drugs, as the head of research and development in Europe. Mr. Lehmussaari told us that plenty of valid screening methods and disease models exist for various different indications for novel bioactive compounds, which enable the quick screening of a number of compounds. However, the development path of bioactive compounds originating in the forest to medicinal products is long and loaded with challenges. There is couple of key messages Mr. Lehmussaari delivered:

  1. It takes a long time to discover, screen and test a novel bioactive compound and its biological functions and properties. It may take 15 – 20 years from forest to pharmacy.  In the light of the long research and development path, one critical factor to be thoroughly considered is intellectual properties. One should not consider compromising the IP protection of an invention by disclosing information of data related to the innovation too early. Early consultation with IP specialists is highly recommended.

  2. The development of a novel drug product from the basis of a novel bioactive compound requires a multi-discipline scientific team, complemented by commercial know-how.  Long enough financing and early cooperation with a company capable of developing a product all the way to the pharmacy is quite often essential to success. The earlier that data for proof of concept exists, the higher the probability of finding partners for the development project.

Overall, the innovative research idea needs to progress with a well-organized plan. We have many opportunities and challenges in promoting bioactive compounds originating in the forest.

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