anti-malarial medicines from the medicinal plants of southern Africa project

  • Quarterly report for the period 1 July 2003 - 30 September 2003
    (pdf format 215 kb)

Project Summary
Malaria poses a serious threat to the population in the tropical and sub-tropical regions of our subcontinent.  The appearance of drug-resistant strains of the Malaria parasite has materially worsened this danger, and this has become a major stumbling block to economic development and tourism in the affected areas.

The subcontinent has a rich floral diversity, totalling about 24 000 species.  Of these, about 4 000 species are used in traditional medicine for medicinal purposes.  The consortium owns a database containing 2 300 records of 700 plants claimed to be used in the treatment or prevention of malaria.

The problem is that the usefulness of these traditional remedies for the treatment of Malaria has not been systematically investigated, and the country is therefore not in a position to benefit from this significant genetic resource and indigenous knowledge base.    Such an evaluation is urgent, since urbanisation and other factors are rapidly reducing the availability of first-hand information on traditional medicines. 

The key task is the creation of a focused multidisciplinary scientific capability to derive anti-malarial medicines from the known medicinal plants of Southern Africa, so that: 

  • Significant economic benefits for South Africa are generated through product innovation.
  • Jobs are created through the cultivation and processing of indigenous plants with anti-malarial properties.
  • A technology platform, consisting of al the elements of the "value-chain" for drug discovery, is created, i.e. a proven and capable infrastructure of people and facilities, allowing South Africa to attain its rightful place in the expanding market for plant-derived medicines.
  • Benefits are channelled back to the communities, ensuring full recognition of the importance of the intellectual property of the traditional healers.

The aim of the project is to develop new medicines, based on indigenous plants and indigenous knowledge, for the treatment of Malaria.  The project is expected to lead to the establishment of new agro-processing businesses for the supply of extracted plant material that will be used in the new anti-malarial drug.

Ethnobotanical information regarding the use of approximately 700 plants in the prevention or cure of Malaria is contained in databases developed separately by members of the consortium.  The proposed project will combine this information as well as forge a multi-disciplinary team that can provide the technical skills and research facilities required to develop a novel plant based anti-malarial drug.

The claimed anti-malarial properties of plants selected from the databases and by traditional doctors as part of the ongoing collaboration with the consortium, will be scientifically investigated. The selected plants will be collected, taxonomically identifies, extracted, and tested for biological activity in multi-dose and multi-strain in-vivo tests.  Active extracts are fractionated, using biological assays as indicator, until the level of a standardised extract or a pure compound is reached.

An agro-processing project, aimed at establishing whether plants with scientifically proven anti-malarial properties can be successfully cultivated and processed will be put in place during the early stages of the proposed project.  The agro-processing focus will initially be on two specific plants shown by the UCT group to have potential to combat the chloroquine resistance of certain Malaria strains.

New medicinal substances will be subjected to refined pharmacological evaluations aimed at determining their selectivity, toxicity, mechanism of action and immunology. Then follows the determination of chemical structure, synthesis of logical derivatives and the development of reliable analytical methods.

It is expected that the project will add value to our indigenous plants and indigenous knowledge as follows:

  • Provision of new therapeutic agents for combating of malaria.
  • Royalty earnings through patenting and out-licensing of anti-malarial product leads to the pharmaceutical industry.
  • Job creation through establishment of agro-processing businesses for the supply of active substances derived from cultivated indigenous plants.

The project is being undertaken by a consortium comprising the South African Medical Research Council (MRC) (Lead agency), University of Cape Town (UCT), Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), National Botanical Institute (NBI), University of Western Cape and University of Pretoria (UP) and is funded by the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology (DACST) through the Innovation Fund.  The Project Leader is Prof Peter Folb - Head of Pharmacology, UCT, and Director of MRC/UCT Traditional Medicines Unit and the Business Manager is Dr Niresh Bhagwandin - Manager: Business Development, MRC.  The project budget is R6,7 million extending over 3 years (2001 - 2003).

Sindiswa Luwaca,;
Tel: +27 21 406 6355; Fax: +27 21 448 0886
Niresh Bhagwandin
Tel: +27 21 938 0207; Fax: +27 21 938 0460


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