You are here

Methods Development in Natural Products Chemistry (R41/R42 Clinical Trial Not Allowed)


  1. Purpose

    The purpose of this STTR initiative is to stimulate technological innovation in the private sector, strengthen the role of small business in meeting research and development needs, and improve the return on investment from Federally-funded research.

    Natural products offer a diverse reservoir of biologically active components.  The single chemical entities, as well as their mixtures in natural product extracts, have a long history of use as drugs, drug precursors, and/or complementary health adjuvants. However, methodologies for the identification of bioactive natural products and their mechanism(s) of pharmacological action are often inadequate or too time consuming to be compatible with modern screening platforms.  Potentially, many existing biotechnologies could be adapted to improve natural products research.  Innovative methods might utilize genomics, bioengineering, bioinformatics, synthetic and molecular biology, or nanotechnology. These new and innovative methodologies and technologies should increase the efficiency of research in this field.


    Natural products can be an essential sources of medicines.  In many parts of the world, people still rely on traditional formulas made from natural products as the primary source of medicine. The modern pharmaceutical industry is also dependent on plant-based medicines, with as much as 50% of all drugs based on natural products or derived from a natural product origin. Clearly, natural products offer excellent sources of health-promoting medicines. Thus, it is extremely important that we enhance our capacity to achieve a solid scientific understanding of their potential health benefits.

    Nonetheless, substantial problems exist in identifying and understanding natural products and their bioactivity. While the potential for natural products in health and wellbeing is clear, the challenges that hamper the full utilization of these resources are many, with the greatest hurdle simply being the enormous amount of time and effort required for characterization of the mechanisms by which natural products exert their biological activity. While advances have been made to help overcome these hurdles, there exist many new and innovative untapped technological resources that can improve natural products research methodologies.

    Research Objectives

    With this STTR initiative, NCCIH is proposing to focus on areas that could significantly improve the progress in natural products research. Areas of interest include, but are not limited to, those listed below:

    • Technologies aimed at improving field applications for characterizing natural product sources/species and their diverse bioactive constituents, (e.g., activity based profiling, biosensors, spectrometric equipment and techniques, etc.)
    • Technologies aimed at the rapid removal of nuisance compounds in the crude extracts of natural products, (e.g., innovative chromatographic technologies, resins, catch and release-type systems, etc.)
    • Technologies aimed at the development of highly sensitive phenotypic/high content bioassays including capacity to identify potential synergistic mechanisms (e.g., image-based cellular assays, multiple-endpoint analysis based on phenotypic changes, bioengineering chemically sensitive strains, etc.)
    • Technologies aimed at the creation and exploitation of model systems for the expression of natural product constituents in high product yielding hosts (e.g., broad spectrum heterologous or homologous expression hosts, stimulation of biosynthetic pathways, mutation, etc.)
    • Technologies aimed at predicting and/or quantifying risks of natural product–drug interactions (e.g., designed in vitro interaction assays or kits, in silico technologies, etc.)

    This FOA is intended to help move useful technologies into the commercial marketplace by inviting STTR grant applications from small businesses for further development of such technologies that are relevant to the missions of the sponsoring NIH institutes and centers. The supported research and development will likely include making the tools more robust and easy to use. NCCIH encourages new investigators as well as those investigators who are previous recipients and have shown significant progress in moving useful technologies into the commercial marketplace.

    Topics that are not within the scope of this FOA include:

    • Approaches applicable to only one organism, biosynthetic pathway, and/or natural product or are of limited scope
    • Optimization of large-scale production of natural products
    • Chemical synthesis of natural products
    • Characterization of biosynthetic enzymes of established or easily predictable function
    • Approaches focused on spectral libraries of natural products
    • Approaches based on collection or storage of natural products for screening

    See Section VIII. Other Information for award authorities and regulations.

US Flag An Official Website of the United States Government