What the industry needs to know about polypharmacology

By Danielle Masterson contact

- Last updated on GMT

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Getty Images

Related tags: polypharmacology, mono pharmacology, preventative treatment

Historically, our healthcare system has been focused on sick care. One expert wants to put the spotlight on polypharmacology, a lesser-known technique used in well care.

One advantageous strategy the nutraceutical industry uses in botanical extract development involves multiple compounds from plants that hit a variety of biological pathways. 

“When you say ‘polypharmacology’ people don’t know what you’re talking about,”​ said Dan Gubler, PhD.

The term doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. According Gubler, a natural products chemist, there are two different models to support health and wellness: Polypharmacology and mono pharmacology.  

Polypharmacology vs. mono pharmacology

Mono pharmacology is a practice employed by pharmaceutical companies. It’s one molecule, binding to one target, that causes a biological response. “The method the pharmaceutical uses is for treatment and sick care. This molecule is a synthesized molecule. One potential issue is that these synthesized compounds are unnatural to the body and not recognized by the liver,” ​Gubler said.

Polypharmacology on the other hand, is used by science-based nutraceutical companies. This method uses multiple natural compounds from plants, which target several receptors in the body. Gubler told NutraIngredients-USA that there is a lot of potential synergy with polypharmacology. “When you intelligently include multiple compounds from plants, you can harness greater power than you can in some cases with mono pharmacology.” 

“Now I have nothing against big pharma, drugs have saved millions of lives. But there’s this alternate approach, this everyday preventative well care approach, and that’s what we offer in the nutraceutical industry.”

Wellcare vs. sickcare

“There’s a lot of new science and a lot of new formulations that could be developed with clinical studies, with good science, they could help with preventative, daily well care, instead of sick care. Polypharmacology is used for preventative well care. When you think about compounds like curcuminoids from curcumin, or resveratrol from red wine, flavonals from cacao, these compounds have the ability to support everyday health and wellness,”​ Gubler said. 

Other examples would be coffee which contains caffeine and catechins, as well as other compounds that cause the beneficial responses.

Another example Gubler pointed out is CBD. “The hemp industry is a good example of polypharmacology where you have a mixture of cannabinoids, like CBD, and then you have terpenes in hemp oil that combine to cause this polypharmacological response.”

So why aren’t we hearing more about polypharmacology? 

“I think a lot of people in the nutraceutical industry don’t understand it. Polypharmacology, if done right, with clinical studies, can and should be as rigorous as the mono pharmacology approach is with the pharmaceutical industry. And I think we need to be more deliberate in understanding the principles of polypharmacology and then applying them in formulations, in new ingredients that are developed, and finding synergistic combinations of existing ingredients.” 

Gubler said that more industry experts need to be aware of the polypharmacology method. He said if industry experts like formulators and manufacturers unified, it would be a powerful means of improving the nutraceutical development process in revolutionary ways.

“Polypharmacology is just getting started,”​ Gubler explained, adding that there is an estimated  600,000 species of plants on the earth and less than 5% of those plants have been actively studied for their bioactive compounds. “So there’s so much left for the nutraceutical industry to discover and explore.”

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