Worldwide, severe side effects from classic medicine are becoming a health risk in themselves, often misdiagnosed as symptoms of other problems, resulting in further prescriptions, further side effects and unanticipated drug interactions; the so-called ‘prescription cascade’. Saad Harti, founder and CEO of botanical biopharma company Legacy Healthcare, describes this situation as “a silent pandemic” due to the fact that “the full extent of the side effects derived from the repeated taking of many classic drugs over a prolonged period of time to treat the symptoms of chronic disease is still rather poorly understood.”


Harti continues: “The FDA estimates that adverse drug reaction has become the fourth biggest cause of mortality in the United States and a full 42 percent of American citizens over the age of 65 are taking a concoction of five drugs or more on a regular basis.” In terms of spending, “The cost of adverse drug reactions mortality and morbidity was estimated to be USD 177 billion in 2004 and during the 2004-2014 period, side effects reported to the FDA increase five-fold.”


Harti explains that Legacy Healthcare aims to break this cycle of adverse drug reaction, by “betting big on botanical drugs.” He posits that “Not all botanicals are safe, but by using extracts from the ones our bodies are used to ingesting, we have the chance to develop very safe drugs with few side effects and long-term toxicity.” While Harti does not go so far as to say that botanicals stand to replace classic medicines completely, he does feel that his company offers drugs that are “much more patient-friendly and can serve as a useful complement to classic, synthetic medicines.”


In terms of industry scepticism towards bringing innovative botanical products to market, Harti notes that “The first product we developed has been commercialized by Sanofi, Abbott and Galderma-Nestlé Skin Health, all pharmaceutical firms. Provided the science is solid and the proof of efficacy and safety are there, the industry understands the benefit.” However, he does point out that “scepticism comes from the venture capital funds, which we need as a drug development company.” The embryonic state of the sector is summed up by the fact that “to date, the FDA and EMA have only approved three innovative botanical drugs in total so there is a lot of work to do to get this niche, with its huge potential, flourishing.” However, Harti remains optimistic and concludes with an analogy from another industry: “Most people would not have bet a dime on Tesla a decade ago; now the whole automobile industry is shifting to cleaner cars!”