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Pharmaceuticals, herbicides offer new paths for drugs

A pharmaceutical has at times been used as an herbicide or pesticide, and vice versa. Pharmaceutical potential for herbicide products should be recognized.

Many pharmaceuticals have a lot in common with herbicides. In fact, for years most pharmaceutical companies had accompanying agrochemical divisions. When particular biological functions are targeted by a chemical compound, it could apply both to humans and to plants, as in the case of a fungicide. A compound developed as a pharmaceutical has at times found a better use as an herbicide or pesticide, and vice versa.

The article ( “Herbicide and Pharmaceutical Relationships” appears in the May-June 2010 issue of the journal Weed Science. The parallels between herbicides and pharmaceuticals and their applications against malaria, cancer, and other diseases are explored.

Due to regulatory considerations, public perception, and simple economics — the pharmaceutical market has more to offer — a chemical compound is applied to one use, either human or nonhuman. Only one product, the fungicide fluconazole, is known to be an active ingredient in a commercial pesticide as well as in a pharmaceutical. Scientifically speaking, however, there are many similarities in the chemical composition, targeted sites, and discovery methods of herbicides and pharmaceuticals.

Some herbicides, such as antimalarials, antivirals, antibiotics, and fungicides, are active against transmittable diseases. They kill disease organisms — however, the pests live within or on us in this case. Nontransmittable diseases, such as cancer or diabetes, have been treated with pharmaceuticals that target an enzyme. Herbicides often attack the same enzymes, although they have different functions in plants.

While no one is suggesting that an herbicide should be used to treat a human ailment, the pharmaceutical potential for products developed as herbicides may go unrealized without recognition of the many parallels between them.

Full text of the article, “Herbicide and Pharmaceutical Relationships” ( Weed Science, Volume 58, Issue 3, May-June 2010, is available at

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