Norwegian medical academics have urged African states to test and register herb based medicines, like Artemisia annua extracts and compounds, since mosquitoes are becoming resistant to chemical insecticides, while malaria parasites are becoming resistant to most synthetic drugs.
Meanwhile the University of Liverpool has found a way of producing oroganic molecules, and applied these natural ‘mimics’ in an antimalarial drug that is more chemically stable in the body of patients that current malaria treatments.
The Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine is spending £1.5-million on developing the drug, and is set to start clinical trials. Simple organic molecules are said to be cheaper to mass produce than current therapies, and more powerful than naturally derived wormwood drugs like artemisinin.
Artemisinin and its derivatives are most rapidly acting and effective long lasting among current malaria drugs. It interacts with a substance inside parasite infected red blood cells and causes a chain reaction that destroys the disease vector.
Current treatment is difficult to mass produce and can be chemically unstable in the body. Synthetic versions of the reactive part of artemisinin are stabilised in combination with a ‘cage’ of organic molecules.
Liverpool Prof Paul O’Neill said the new drug is absorbed by the body and highly potent, made from “very simple organic materials… and cost effective to mass produce .”
The base for the new antimalarial drug is an extract of a Chinese herb commonly used in malaria treatment. The research is funded by the European Commission and published in the journal Angewandte Chemie Int Ed.
African herbs tested, registered
A team at Norwegian University of Life Sciences is testing a wide range of African herbs to supplement or replace chemically synthesised drugs, some being supplied in bulk via humanitarian aid donors working to relieve the burden of a million deaths, disease, and treatment costs in Africa and around the world.
A number of Anopheles mosquito species could carry Plasmodium falciparum between people, and infect about 300-m people per year. Mosquitoes are all born free of malaria, and carry the malaria vector only after feeding off an infected person.
Herbs to patent drugs
Several teams of academics, state agencies, and pharmaceutical developers, are testing properties of plant species, sub species, and regional variants from several regions in Africa, for extracts and compounds to add to pharmacopeia.
Among the herbal test teams is a South African technology agency, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, CSIR, based next to a botanical garden in Silverton, Pretoria.
Once registered, particular herbal extracts and compounds are typically patented and mass produced from harvesting area licenses, herb farms, or synthesised preparations, to recoup research and development expense.
Herbalists and traditional healers in South Africa said they are not directly affected by commercialisation of herbal cures, unless access to indigenous plants would be restricted on the pretext of conservation.
Traditional healers and ethno practitioners mostly use whole plants, not extracts or complex compounds. Herbal patenting remains a legal minefield due to sporadic claims on behalf of certain indigenous groups on intellectual property ownership of herbal knowledge.
PHOTO; Leaves and bulbs of sweet wormwood, Artemisia annua, indigenous to China and Eurasia, is one of the ‘poster’ herbs used to promote herbal based research, registration, patenting, and mass production. Its molecular structure is mimicked in synthetic drugs.