The application of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for the treatment of a variety of diseases is an ancient and respected tradition, and while widely accepted in the Far East, is becoming quite popular in Western cultures as well. There has also been an increasing interest in isolating and characterizing the active chemical ingredients in Chinese herbal medicines to develop conventional Western pharmaceutical agents based on numerous recent successes. Two of the most prominent examples are the drugs Camptothecin (Irinotecan and Topotecan), which is used to treat various cancers and isolated from Camptotheca acuminata or the Happy Tree, and Artemisinia, which is used to treat malaria and isolated from Artemisia apiacea or the Sweet Wormwood Herb. Another example of a well-known drug derived from botanicals is the drug Taxol (Paclitaxel), which is used to treat various cancers and isolated from Taxus sp. or the Yew Tree.
Although the development of novel pharmaceutical agents from botanical sources is quite complex, it nonetheless follows a straightforward process. Botanical extracts are prepared from herbal plants known to have uses in TCM, and the individual chemical agents are separated and analyzed to identify the active ingredient. The promising pharmaceutical agents are next assayed to ensure that they have no toxicological issues and tested in animal models for the diseases they are intended to treat before initiating human drug trials. The Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research (TCBMR) was created to spearhead this endeavor and represents a significant economic development opportunity for the State of Tennessee.