Prof. Okogun tasks scientists on drug production from plant extracts
Emeritus professor of Chemistry, Joseph I. Okogun, has said that for Nigeria’s indigenous herbals to be fully harnessed for the improvement of health care delivery, production of drugs from active principles is no longer an option but a necessity.
Okogun, who spoke extensively during the public lecture organised by the Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS), held at the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, Yaba, on 28 January, 2015, called on all scientists, including biologists, chemists, pharmacologists and clinicians in the country to form a formidable team for the formulation of drugs from active principles on a large scale.
Speaking on the topic, “Drug Production Efforts in Nigeria 2: Anti-Cancer Remedies Emerge through Herbs, Chemistry and Biology”, the erudite don asserted that a smooth collaboration could enhance the development of some natural drugs as well as their formulation into prescribed drugs, with the use of the country’s plant extracts.
Okogu chided Nigerian scientists for their negative behaviour towards the efforts of herbal practitioners in the country, noting that such actions would not lead to the development of the health care sector.
He said it was high time researchers supported traditional practice by assisting in standardising the practice through clinical trials and other activities that would promote indigenous plants resources.
Analysing the manufacturing capabilities of the country, the renowned scholar said the country had, among other things, availability of human resources; presence of active principle isolation in over 99 per cent purity; extensive documentation by FDA and NAFDAC; as well as intellectual property protection and maintenance, which make the formulation of local herbal drugs a huge possibility.
He explained further that local manufacturers would be doing themselves and the nation a great disservice, if they persist in importing active principles, rather than utilising local medicinal plants, which can play better roles in the body chemistry of the populace.
Citing the example of a medicinal plant in Nigeria called gedunin, as published in Research Gate with the title: “An unprecedented gedunin rearrangement reaction converts a methyl group into the methylene group of a cyclopropyl ring”, he said the plant has several medicinal and commercial values, as indicated by the publication.
“Some of the activities of gedunin, when tested in the laboratory showed the following medicinal activities: anti-ovarian cancer, anti-colon cancer, anti-malaria, anti-allergy, and insecticides”, he listed.
In his own remarks at the event, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, President of the Nigerian Academy of Science, urged the federal government to give science the priority it deserves in the country. He said there was need to fund and develop drug researches, to reduce the burden of diseases and save many Nigerians.
“With the significant changes taking place in the country, science has not fared well, even with all the steps taken,” he observed. “The federal government should invest in basic science and drug researches to support the growth of the drug industry and other manufacturing industries. This initiative will encourage indigenous drug makers to take bold, strategic steps in local drug production and, in effect, spur the growth of the industry in Nigeria,”
President of the National Association of Nigeria Traditional Medicine Practitioners (NANTMP) Chief Omon Oleabhiele, also contributed by making a comparison between China and Nigeria, stating that if the Chinese could succeed on their native medicine of Acupuncture, which was initially kicked against by the World Health Organisation, then Nigerian scientists were inexcusable for not harnessing their local herbs for the development of drugs for their citizens.
He further mentioned that if government could allow traditional doctors to record the experiences of patients who were successfully treated with native herbs and became well, it would serve as a good platform for clinical trials, a development that would accord local traditional medicines global recognition.