FDA approved natural or unpatentable treatments.

It’s common lore among some that the pharmaceutical companies don’t research natural remedies because they can’t be patented. I can think of several unpatentable or natural drugs that are exceptions, but I’m certain there are more. What others are there?

DMSO (not natural, but certainly not patentable)

I know some of those have had associated with them, but that is part of my point. Being natural does not mean there is no portion that can’t be patented, but also, not being patentable does not mean it wont be tested for approval.

I’m looking for the names of similar drugs, not a debate on the pharmaceutical industry.

I think that it’s more of a natural medicine debate tactic than anything. It lends a conspiracy theory air of legitimacy to those kinds of arguments. To add to your list:

any opiate, but most notably opium
Estrogen/testosterone/most other hormones
Vincristine (thanks, Google!)
That being said, identifying, extracting, purifying and testing natural products for potential drugs is expensive, and I’m sure someone has examples of natural medicines for which the active ingredient(s) hasn’t been identified.

You’re too kind. I would have used the word “lie”.

Sure, you can’t patent “chew on this leaf”. But if chewing on that leaf is actually good for anything, then there’s some substance or substances in the leaf that cause it. And once you’ve figured out what that substance is, and figure out a way for extracting and purifying it, you can patent that. And then once you have that, you can go on to make various small changes to the substance in hopes of making it work better, or work for related conditions, or decrease the side effects, and that’s patentable, too. Frankly, I’m not sure there’s any manufactured and patented drug that wasn’t developed in this way.

IIRC, the problem is that you cannot patent something that has prior art, that already exists. If you were to discover that dried banana peel tea cured cancer, you could not patent that. If you came up with a magical process - boil dried banana peel with WD40 and acetylsalicyclic acid and get a chemical different from what went before, that cures cancer, then THAT you could patent; but if it was no more effective than the tea, you can’t prevent the tea from being sold.

This is the problem with folklore drugs - the active ingredient, assuming it is effective, is usually already being extacted by tea, grinding, whatever. (aspirin was extracted as tea of willow bark, IIRC). You can come up with a new process to make it, and maybe patent that, but the basic ingredient is already public domain. You might fiddle with the chemical formulation, and come up with a chemically slightly different medicine, and patent that (and the process), but if it is not much better than the public domain one, can you sell fubariton for $100 a dose when someting alomst as good can be scraped off the nearest tree for free?

(A number of studies for example have shown that all the wonderful new drug$ for high blood pressure are not much more effective than the old standards at 1/10th the price. )

Plus, it’s no exagerration that it takes millions and years to do the trials to validate a new drug.

That’s not entirely true though. For many drugs derived from natural sources, the advantage is accurately knowing the contents and amount of active ingredient (I wouldn’t be caught dead (hah!) taking OTC digoxin!) as well as the active ingredient being concentrated down to a reasonable dosage form. As an example of the former, look at Lovaza - it is just fish oil, but in a standardized dosage form that had at least enough clinical trials to muster FDA approval. And for the latter, Marinol would not be as popular if one had to smoke it :wink:

Aspirin, I believe, was a preparation invented by Bayer in the 1800’s, and he based his research on an Ancient Greek preparation of willow bark extract - salicylic acid. If he had just tried to sell that, well, a 2000 year old preparation that is documented in medical literature from the Ancient world isn’t exactly novel enough for a patent.

He found that the preparation made people sick to their stomach, and he managed to add acetyl groups to the molecule, producing acetylsalicylic acid. People didn’t get quite so sick when they took it. The rest was history.

Btw, this is related to why aspirin sometimes smells like vinegar - it breaks down into salicylic acid and acetic acid.

It’s a good point that aspirin isn’t really the natural compound. As such, I suppose it doesn’t qualify.

Niaspan, being an extended-release formulation of niacin (vitamin B3) would qualify, I’d say.

Despite being a natural substance, Niaspan was granted patent approval in 1997 running through 2014.

There is one drug, that I’m really surprised hasn’t been mentioned so far… Lovastatin (Brand is Mevacor). It was found in various natural products such as Oysters, Mushrooms, and “Red Yeast Rice”. It was isolated, and a method of synthesizing it was developed. It was then patented and became a blockbuster drug.

It was also what started the whole “Statin” class of drugs, Including Simvastain (Zocor), Atorvastatin (Lipitor), Pravastain (Pravachol), and Rutuvastatin (Crestor), which is some of the highest $$$ prescription medications in the past 20 years.

And… the natural product, Red Yeast Rice, in the United States, is required to have all the Lovastatin removed from it now, because one of the producers got in trouble from the FDA for selling a legend drug without a prescription.

So… Lovastatin is a natural product, that was available OTC as an herbal product, that was patented, and then removed from the OTC market, while making the pharmacutical companies billions (yes, billions… Lipitor alone was over $7 billion in sales in 2010).

Oh, and any Red Yeast Rice purchased in the United States no longer has Lovastatin in it, so, it doesn’t do a dang thing anymore. It is a total waste of money if you buy it.

Not so. The ban was rescinded almost immediately after passing, and never applied to the rice itself in any case, only “herbal medications” containing it.

Do you have a cite? Not doubting you, just I haven’t heard different, and if I’m going to give recommendations to patients, I need a reputable citation.

Either way, the rest of the comment stands for answering the OP.

Here is an about.com link stating that the companies have to remove the lovastatin from red yeast rice. The most recent article I could find on the FDA website was from 2008 to a particular manufacturer.

I think your premise is wrong. The distinction between “natural” and “synthetic” remedies is not rigid. Synthetic drugs aren’t produced out of thin air; you need to start with some raw materials found in nature (be they chemicals, vegetable matter, or animal matter) and then refine, modify, and/or combine them in a certain way. Looking at it this way, almost all drugs, including the ones on your list, are synthetic, and thus potentially subject to patents. In fact, some the drugs on your list (including aspirin, marinol, lovaza, and penicillin) are patented, were patented, or were considered patentable but released into the public domain by the inventors. Even “unpatentable” drugs can still have patents associated with certain uses or preparations, which can prove quite lucrative for the companies which own them.

Antibiotics are good for natural product drugs, as well as penicillin you have Vancomycin, teicoplanin, the tetracyclines, macrolides like erythromycin etc.

A guy at Arizona has put together a great poster of the top 200-selling drugs with the strutures shown, which is great for anyone interested in chemistry to see what sort of molecules are being used in medicine at the moment - here

That is exactly my premise. Although, I see that the word “patents” seems to have been left out of one sentence at he end.

Should read:

I know some of those have had patents associated with them, but that is part of my point. Being natural does not mean there is no portion that can’t be patented, but also, not being patentable does not mean it wont be tested for approval.

The salicylic acid active ingredient in aspirin is the same as the salicylic acid active ingredient in willow bark. As noted, the molecule was modified to make it much less harsh on the gastrointestinal tract; this was the key event in making salicylic acid an effective and relatively nontoxic drug for acute and chronic pain and inflammation.

And while there have been no huge profits made from aspirin for a very long time due to lack of a patent, there’s been no shortage of research into its myriad uses, including investigations of cancer prophylaxis. All you have to do is plug “aspirin” into a Pub Med scientific literature database search, and you’ll marvel at the vast amount of work done on a substance that can’t be patented by Big Pharma.

There are lots of “natural” compounds beyond the ones already mentioned (add colchicine, snake venom and a slew of antibiotics to the list) that have been or will be further researched, purified and their molecule structure tweaked to make safer, more dependable and more effective drugs than their “natural” counterparts.

It’s strange that some of the same alties who assure us that their cures aren’t being investigated/used because they can’t be patented, simultaneously boast about a high percentage of current drugs being derived from plants or other natural substances. Frequently they are up in arms about corporations supposedly seeking to patent natural remedies to prevent consumers from obtaining them from public service-minded supplement companies. :dubious: Here’s one source claiming that Big Something-Or-Other tried to patent neem oil (a cure-all, doncha know).

So either Corporate Evil is ignoring life-saving remedies because they can’t patent and make gobs of money off them, or they’re attempting to take them over to control the world supply and make gobs of money. I wish these people would make up their minds. :(:confused::eek:

By the way, while it isn’t typically regarded as a drug, the natural sweetener Stevia was promoted for years by alties as a wonderful product being suppressed/ignored by the FDA and big corporations because there wasn’t any money in selling a natural sweetener. Lo and behold, after safety studies were completed companies like Cargill have jumped into the stevia market and it’s being mass marketed and winding up in a number of products.

It should be obvious that there’s huge sales potential for any relatively safe and effective natural drug/supplement that actually works and can be promoted as “natural”, “green” etc. Obvious to anyone but conspiracy-minded idiots.

On that website, it lists AIDS as ones of neem oil’s traditional uses. How traditional can treatments for AIDS be?

More importantly, what haven’t people tried for AIDS, especially before there were (vaguely) safe and effective drugs for it?

It should be noted that much of the heavy lifting on penicillin was done by government labs. Discovery and refining occurred at Oxford; the means of mass production was done by the USDA.

This is obviously wrong at least for Germany/ Europe, though I suppose the situation is similar in the US:

at least one company* is not only selling (high-strenght) homeopathic medicine, but also medicine “based” on natural ingredients, and explaining (in their own Press release, true) how they have a big garden full of known “natural remedies plants” and are constantly researching what their active ingredients are and what exactly they are good for, in order to extract them and package them as approved, tested medicine.

The advantage being of course that each tablet has a reliable amount of active ingredient, and no mercury or flour or other stuff mixed in (as hucksters like Dr. Rath or Traditional Chinese Medicine from China love to do).

Regardless of patents, the production of reliable medicine is good enough to earn money, even if it’s not a secret what plant something is extracted from.

In addition, there are also university and EU projects; one is a team of historians, botanists and medical doctors who look at 500 years old books on herbs. The historians translate the text, the botanists try to identify the plant from the descriptions, and the doctors test the claims that this plant can cure disease X or relieve symptom Y.
Considering the superstition, still a good percentage turns out to be true and usable (IIRC, somewhere about 40%, which is better than testing every plant growing somewhere).

  • I don’t want to name names, but I could dig if you want to know