Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Periodic Report Summary 1 - MEDPLANT (Phylogenetic exploration of medicinal plant diversity)

MedPlant is a Marie Curie Initial Training Network (ITN) exploring the evolution and sustainable use of medicinal plant diversity for unmet medical needs. Through a network of 13 PhD and 2 postdoctoral projects, our research develops new interdisciplinary approaches and technologies for selection and sustainable use of biodiversity resources for drug lead discovery from plants. MedPlant consists of leading European research groups, private companies, and public and non-public organisations with complimentary knowledge in this area. It is the aim of MedPlant to inspire appreciation of the Worlds biodiversity and the need to protect and study it, and we hope that ultimately it will increase the number of new drugs brought to the market.

The number of new drugs coming to the market is declining and interest in lead discovery from natural resources is seeing a revival. However, although methods for isolation and identification of natural products have advanced explosively in recent decades, methods for selection of potential leads have hardly developed. Hence, training of a new generation of researchers in the proposed innovative field of biodiversity driven lead discovery is both timely and relevant, as it will contribute directly to the economic development and future welfare of Europe and will significantly enhance the employment prospects of the participants.

The Network

The MedPlant network will be running for four years from October 2013 to 2017 and consists of leading European research groups, private companies, and public and non-public organisations with complimentary knowledge in biodiversity driven drug lead discovery. Together the network partners range from basic academic research activities focusing on the evolution of medicinal plants to highly applied research and drug development in large global companies, governmental authorities, as well as community and conservation work providing fellows with a very broad perspective on all aspects of biodiversity driven drug lead discovery.


The MedPlant network will train young researchers in new phylogenetic approaches for exploration of medicinal plant diversity as well as complimentary and entrepreneurial skills relevant for work in the pharmaceutical industry, regulatory bodies, NGOs and academia. In addition to research training through their own research projects, MedPlant will familiarise the students with a range of state-of-the-art methodologies in biodiversity driven lead discovery, and provide cross-disciplinary and intersectorial training through network-wide training activities, summerschools, workshops, collaborations and secondments. Researchers will also learn to address scientific and non-scientific audiences by dissemination and outreach activities.

Dissemination and Outreach

MedPlant aims and results have been disseminated through more than 30 presentations at International Conferences so far. By our outreach activities we want to make people interested in our research and appreciate and protect our biodiversity and motivate young people to work in academic or industrial research. A legacy of MedPlant will also be the MedPlant Methods Manual on Conducting and Communicating Ethnobotanical Research, which was produced in connecting with the 1st Summer school. The manual is freely available as a pdf from the MedPlant web-site. Active participation in outreach activities is an important part of the training program. We want to train scientists who can communicate with people from all different educational backgrounds, which is crucial for interaction in inter-sectorial, interdisciplinary, multinational teams and companies, and society at large.

Results in the first two years
The scientific aim of MedPlant is to develop new approaches and technologies for selection and sustainable use of biodiversity resources for lead discovery and to develop new plant derived leads. Already ten scientific publications and one book chapter are published, three publications have been submitted to international peer-reviewed journals, and several more are in progress. Results highlights to date include two reviews of evolutionary approaches to ethnobiology (Saslis-Lagoudakis et al., 2015a; Leonti, 2015), an ethnobotanical study documenting acculturation and loss of ethnobotanical knowledge in southern Mexico (Geck et al., submitted), new pipelines for classifying diseases and remedies in ethnomedicine and ethnopharmacology (Ernst et al., 2015; and in prep; Leonti et al., 2015; Staub et al. 2015), for investigating pharmacological similarity by charting chemical space (Buonfiglio et al., 2015; Xu et al., submitted), and exploration of DNA barcoding for authentication of herbal products (de Boer et al., 2015; Saslis-Lagoudakis et al., 2015b).

Future Impact
As we enter the second period, the MedPlant network is thriving, ambitious and active and well under way, and we look forward to continue the work and to show how the opportunity to create the MedPlant network have significantly impacted the training of the Fellows, the networking of all parties, and the development of the field of phylogenetic exploration of medicinal plants, hopefully with lasting impact on the development of new approaches and leads for the future benefit of human healthcare in Europe and beyond.

Contact details and Principal Investigators

Coordinating Team
University of Copenhagen – Scientific Coordinator Professor Nina Rønsted (, Administrator Mette Wenøe (, EU advisory office Anne Oftebro-Svendsen (

Principal investigators
Partner 1 - University of Copenhagen – Professor Nina Rønsted
Partner 2 - University of Reading – Professor Julie Hawkins
Partner 3 - University of Cagliari – Associate Professor Marco Leonti
Partner 4 - University of Iceland – Professor Sesselja Omarsdottir
Partner 5 - Uppsala University – Professor Anders Backlund
Partner 6 - University of Zürich – Associate Professor Caroline Weckerle
Partner 7 - University of Bern – Professor Jürg Gertsch
Partner 8 - University of Oslo – Associate Professor Hugo de Boer
Partner 9 - Astra Zeneca – Dr. Thierry Kogej

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