Monday, June 5, 2017

A perspective on "Critics assail India's attempt to ‘validate’ folk remedy"

Following is a letter written by me in response to a report published in reputed journal Science which appeared online just last week:

In my opinion, brouhaha against scientific validation efforts by the government of India for the potential medicinal use of panchagavya, a mixture made of cow urine, dung, milk, yogurt, and clarified butter, based on the ancient Indian medical literature, is unfounded (1). It’s not unwise to explore the therapeutic potential of folk remedies using the modern scientific methodologies given most synthetic drugs used in the modern medicine have associated severe side effects and often times do not provide any significant health benefit at all. There are many instances when properly designed scientific studies to explore an active ingredient derived from a natural source used in the folk medicine have resulted in wonder drugs that saved millions of lives worldwide. Most recent such example is story of Artemisinin which was extracted from Chinese herb Artemisia annua, also known as sweet wormwood, which was further studied elaborately using tools of modern science by Dr. Youyou Tu who later was awarded with Nobel Prize just a couple years ago. The results obtained after decades long research program initiated at the behest of China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences in Beijing was a paradigm shift in the medical field that allowed for Artemisinin to be both clinically studied and produced on industrial scale.

Author of this letter himself is involved in a collaborative project in which a big team of researchers is studying anti-cancer effects of a small molecule namely 'Minnelide' which is a water soluble derivative of triptolide, a diterpene triepoxide extracted from the Chinese plant Trypterygium wilfordii (2). Minnelide has shown a lot of promise as a potential chemotherapeutic options in multiple tumor cell lines (3) and currently being tested in clinics in a phase II, international open label trial in patients with refractory pancreatic cancer (4).

However, forcing a group of scientists some of whom may not have faith in drug discovery program originating from traditional medicine may not be fruitful in long run. There ought to be a balance between political and pure scientific influence in making decisions about science policy. An overall strategy for making decisions regarding government funded research need to be formulated with the consensus of government funding agencies as well as scientists likely to work on the projects of increased and decreased areas of emphasis as decided by government. Utmost importance should be given to allocate the budget adequate enough so as to serve both national interests and to foster a world-class scientific and technical enterprise. To this end, political and scientific administration need to establish a dialogue process that could help engage scientists who naturally have academic interests in pursuing folk medicine based drug discovery research.


(1) S. Kumar, Critics assail India’s attempt to “validate” folk remedy. Science 355, 898–898 (2017)

(2) R. Chugh, V. Sangwan, S. P. Patil, V. Dudeja, R. K. Dawra, S. Banerjee, R. J. Schumacher, B. R. Blazar, G. I. Georg, S. M. Vickers, A. K. Saluja, A preclinical evaluation of Minnelide as a therapeutic agent against pancreatic cancer. Sci. Transl. Med. 4, 156ra139 (2012)

(3) Giri B, Banerjee B, George J, Modi S, Gupta VK, Singh MK, Dudeja V, Saluja AK. Triptolide pro-drug decreases tumor burden and halts tumor progression in a murine model of acute myeloid leukemia. Cancer Res, 76 (Supplement), 3499 (2016)

(4) Less
Competing Interests: None declared.

Weblink to my letter:

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