FWD 2 ABC's Norman R. Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award Given to Professor Otto Sticher

ABC's Norman R. Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award Given to Professor Otto Sticher

Prominent Swiss scientist recognized for lifelong career in medicinal plant research

AUSTIN, Texas (March 25, 2019) — The nonprofit American Botanical Council (ABC) announces that the 2018 ABC Norman R. Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award has been presented to Professor Otto Sticher, PhD, a pharmacist, pharmacognosist, and natural products chemist from Switzerland who has spent five decades investigating the quality, composition, and benefits of medicinal plants.

ABC presents the annual award, named in honor of the late, celebrated professor Norman R. Farnsworth, PhD, to an individual who has made significant research contributions in the fields of pharmacognosy, ethnobotany, ethnopharmacology, or other scientific disciplines related to medicinal plants. Farnsworth, who died in 2011, was a highly published and internationally renowned research professor of pharmacognosy, a senior university scholar in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and one of the founding members of ABC’s Board of Trustees.

Otto Sticher, professor emeritus of pharmacognosy at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich, Switzerland (ETH Zürich), best known for his pioneering work on the chemistry of plant compounds known as iridoids, has also made extraordinary contributions to the development of analytical methods for quality control of herbal medicines, and to the knowledge of the chemistry and medicinal properties of many extracts and isolates from plants, bacteria, and marine organisms.

For more than half a century, Prof. Sticher has been at the forefront of research in the fields of ethnobotany and ethnopharmacology, natural products drug discovery, and analytical chemistry. He published what may have been the first HPLC-UV (high-performance liquid chromatography-ultraviolet) analytical method to measure ginsenosides in ginseng (Panax spp.) species, and established a ginkgo extract fingerprint, which includes the separation of 33 ginkgo flavonoids.

According to Stefan Gafner, PhD, ABC’s chief science officer: “The latter is not only an amazing piece of liquid chromatography, but also one of the first papers to consider evaluating the quality of an herbal extract not by a single marker compound, but by the entirety of its chemical composition (fingerprint).”

The impact of Prof. Sticher’s many scientific contributions goes well beyond his more than 400 scientific papers, book chapters, and books (most notably the textbook Pharmakognosie – Phytopharmazie, which is now in its tenth edition). He taught and mentored many students and had some of the most prominent natural products researchers (e.g., Prof. Kurt Hostettmann; Prof. Ikhlas A. Khan; Prof. A. Douglas Kinghorn; Prof. Gabriele M. König; Prof. Beat Meier; and Dr. Fabio Soldati)* working in his laboratories at ETH Zürich.

Throughout his career, Prof. Sticher has received numerous awards and recognitions, including the Egon-Stahl-Award in Gold from the Society for Medicinal Plant and Natural Product Research (GA) and an honorary doctorate from the University of London. In March 2014, the Journal of Natural Products published a special edition in his honor.

Gafner also noted: “Professor Sticher was one of the pioneers in using HPLC to measure the composition of plant extracts. Examples of his earliest work include the HPLC analysis of licorice [Glycyrrhiza glabra] saponins or the bitter principles in gentian [Gentiana spp.] in 1977. But while his research publications most often focus on the chemical or quality aspects of plants, he had a much broader view of herbal medicine quality, which he passed on to several generations of pharmacy students through training in botanical identification, macroscopic and organoleptic analysis, and botanical microscopy. Besides being an exceptional scientist, he is known to colleagues and friends mainly as a kind and honest human being, a true gentleman.”

In an email to ABC, Prof. Sticher wrote: “I am very pleased and grateful to receive the 2018 ABC Norman R. Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award. I would like to thank the American Botanical Council for honoring me with this award. Over the years, our research group at the ETH Zürich had a close scientific collaboration with the group created by Norman Farnsworth at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). This resulted in an ongoing exchange of visitors between ETH and UIC. By fostering such collaborations, Norman Farnsworth helped to build bridges internationally among scientists in the field of traditional botanical medicine.”

Past recipients of the ABC Farnsworth award include Raphael Mechoulam, PhD (2017); Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, PhD (2016); John T. Arnason, PhD (2015); Harry Fong, PhD (2014); Gordon Cragg, PhD (2013); De-An Guo, PhD (2012); Djaja Soejarto, PhD (2011); A. Douglas Kinghorn, PhD (2010); Rudolf Bauer, PhD (2009); Ikhlas Khan, PhD (2008); Hildebert Wagner, PhD (2007); Edzard Ernst, MD, PhD (2006); and Joseph Betz, PhD (2005).

The award was announced and presented in absentia at the 14th Annual ABC Botanical Celebration and Awards Ceremony on March 6, 2018, in Anaheim, California. The event, for ABC Sponsor Members, occurred during Natural Products Expo West.


Prof. Kurt Hostettmann, Emeritus Professor of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry at the Universities of Geneva and Lausanne, Switzerland

Prof. Ikhlas A. Khan, Professor of Pharmacognosy and Director of the National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi, Oxford, MS

Prof. A. Douglas Kinghorn, Professor and Jack L. Beal Chair in Natural Products Chemistry and Pharmacognosy at Ohio State University, Columbus, OH

Prof. Gabriele M. König, Professor of Pharmacognosy (Pharmaceutical Biology) at the University of Bonn, Germany

Prof. Beat Meier, former Professor of Phytopharmacy at the University of Applied Sciences in Wädenswil, Switzerland, and former Director of Research and Development at herbal medicine manufacturer Zeller AG, Romanshorn, Switzerland

Fabio Soldati, PhD, former Director of Research and Development at herbal medicine manufacturer Pharmaton SA, Bioggio, Switzerland