The essential oil components could meet the criteria established for drug candidates

A research team from the Microbiology Center of VIB-KU in Leuven and the Department of Biology of KU in Leuven has shown that, contrary to what is generally believed, most of the components of essential oils could meet the criteria established for candidates to drugs. The components of the essential oil are the components of the essential oils, which are complex mixtures of plant metabolites obtained by dry or steam distillation or by squeezing citrus peels.

Revisiting essential oils

The research project, supervised by prof. Patrick Van Dijck (VIB-KU Leuven Center for Microbiology) and prof. Walter Luyten (Department of Biology of KU Leuven), is rooted in the observation that in recent decades, the discovery of drugs has shifted mainly towards high-performance screening of large synthetically produced chemical libraries, while research on drugs of natural products has diminished.

Prof. Van Dijck:

Natural products such as essential oils and their components are often avoided in the discovery of drugs, for example because they are relatively hydrophobic and volatile. This can cause interference during screening (high yield). “

However, recent technical developments combined with restrictions on the use of chemicals have led to a renewed interest in the discovery of drugs of natural products. Some of the new methods to study essential oils and their components have been developed in the laboratory of prof. Van Dijck under the coordination of Dr. Adam Feyaerts, mainly for the purpose of finding new antimicrobials, for example antifungal drugs.

Dr. Adam Feyaerts:

Nowadays, a relatively large number of essential oils and their components are already available as food supplements, but only a few have made the switch to medications. Since most of the technical barriers have been removed, I wondered if avoiding essential oils and their components in drug discovery was still justified. Therefore, we evaluated some parameters used in the discovery of conventional drugs for over 600 components of essential oils to assess their potential as candidates for the drug. “

Prof. Walter Luyten: “The discovery and development of a new drug takes a long time and is very expensive, not least because so many initial candidates are unsuitable. In other words, the first molecules in the drug discovery process are not promising can be eliminated, the better. Many candidate drug molecules fail when tested on animals. “

A treasure trove of potential drugs? Fortunately, drug discovery filters have been developed in silico capable of predicting the disposition of drugs based on combinations of specific calculated parameters, which have reduced the rate at which potential drugs failed later in the drug development pipeline. This study shows that essential oil components can be assessed using filters implemented by the pharmaceutical industry.

Dr. Adam Feyaerts: “Our results suggest that the essential oil components may be promising sources of new drugs and deserve more attention, especially if they come from essential oils that have already shown clinical benefits. The essential oil components also have unique properties that could be useful for some therapeutic applications, such as for lung or respiratory diseases, for transdermal administration and for diseases of the central nervous system. “


VIB (Flanders Institute for Biotechnology)

Journal reference:

Feyaerts, A.F., et al. (2020) Amazing essential oil: tap into a largely unexplored source for drug discovery. Scientific reports.