Herbal Product Research Programme Consultative Forum

The urgent need for the discovery and development of new pharmaceuticals for the treatment of cancer, AIDS and infectious diseases, as well as a host of other diseases, demands that all approaches to drug discovery be exploited aggressively, and it is clear that nature has played, and will continue to play, a vital role in the drug discovery process. Plants have given the modern world a considerable array of drugs, and in the industrialized countries, 25% of the prescription drugs contain active principles that are still extracted from higher plants. In the area of anti-infectives (anti-bacterial, -fungal, -parasitic, and -viral), close to 70% of drugs are either naturally derived or inspired,

while in the cancer treatment, about 78% are in this category. In the developing world, fresh herbs, dried herbs and partially processed herbs are sold in the markets, while in the industrialized world, an array of herbal preparations impressively formulated are stocked in the pharmacies and supermarkets.  Various estimates are made that indicate 70-80% of the populations of the developing world depend partly or entirely on the herbal remedies, and it can safely be assumed that this is at least so for more than half of the world’s population. As stated by Berkowitz in 2003 commenting on natural products, “We would not have the top-selling drug class today, the statins; the whole field of angiotensin antagonists and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors; the whole area of immunosuppressives; nor most of the anticancer and antibacterial drugs. Today, the commonly used antimalarial drugs, the quinoline blood schizontocides and the peroxide antimalarials (artemisinin derivatives) are modeled upon the plant based compounds, quinine and artemisinin, respectively. The global turnover of the medicinal plant industry is impossible to assess with precision although there is evidence that it exceeds billions of dollars.
Mount Kenya University reckons that search for new plant-derived drugs will continue to benefit mankind, since only a fraction of plant species used as therapeutic agents all over the world have hitherto adequately explored.   It is in the light of this that the “Natural Product Initiative” geared towards research on herbal products has been initiated. Following three (3) successful forums on commercialization of patented herbal medicinal products, it was proposed that there be a Herbal Research Programme to test and validate targeted herbal medicinal products.  Thus, a workshop was organized towards developing a proposal for that goal. It is envisaged that this effort will ultimately lead to exciting herbal products in the market that are safe and affordable, to help in solving some of the health challenges facing the people of Kenya, the Region and beyond.