Natural products and their structural analogues have historically made a major contribution to pharmacotherapy, especially for cancer and infectious diseases. Nevertheless, natural products also present challenges for drug discovery, such as technical barriers to screening, isolation, characterization and optimization, which contributed to a decline in their pursuit by the pharmaceutical industry from the 1990s onwards. In recent years, several technological and scientific developments - including improved analytical tools, genome mining and engineering strategies, and microbial culturing advances - are addressing such challenges and opening up new opportunities.
Consequently, interest in natural products as drug leads is being revitalized, particularly for tackling antimicrobial resistance. Here, we summarize recent technological developments that are enabling natural product-based drug discovery, highlight selected applications and discuss key opportunities. Natural products remain a promising pool for the discovery of scaffolds with high structural diversity and various bioactivities that can be directly developed or used as starting points for optimization into novel drugs. While drug development overall continues to be challenged by high attrition rates, there are additional hurdles for NPs due to issues such as accessibility, sustainable supply and IP constraints. However, we believe that the scientific and technological advances discussed in this Review provide a strong basis for NP-based drug discovery to continue making major contributions to human health and longevity. From Nat Rev Drug Discov. 2021 Mar;20(3):200-216.