CSIR and Afriplex partner for health solutions based on South African plants and indigenous knowledge
The CSIR signed an agreement with Afriplex, a South African manufacturer of herbal, nutraceutical and healthcare products, to carry out biological evaluation studies on herbal extracts that may be beneficial in the management of colds and flu, allergies, male pattern baldness and hair loss.
The CSIR’s collaboration with traditional health practitioners on the use of medicinal plants has led to the identification of a number of traditional herbal remedies.
South Africa has a long tradition of the medicinal use of plants, with an estimated 80% of South Africans consulting one of more than 200 000 traditional healers. Despite the country’s rich biodiversity of more than 24 500 plant species, there are only a few registered herbal medicines that have been derived from these plants.
The CSIR and Afriplex focus on the plant Elephantorrhiza elephantina. This plant, which is commonly known as Elandsboontjie (Afrikaans) and Intolwane (Nguni languages), is found in grassland areas in large parts of the country. Extracts and compounds of Elephantorrhiza elephantina have been developed and produced at the CSIR, including formulations such as treatment capsules, shampoos and scalp massage serums for topical application.
The roots of this plant are commonly used by indigenous people for a wide range of ailments including diarrhoea and dysentery, stomach disorders, haemorrhoids and perforated ulcers, and as emetics. It is also popular for the treatment of skin diseases and acne. CSIR research has shown significant activity of the extracts and compounds against the enzyme steroid 5-alpha reductase. This enzyme – which converts testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT) – is seen as a causative factor in the progression of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and also male pattern baldness. The extract also showed potent anti-oxidant activity that was greater than in green tea extract when tested.
Both organisations prefer clinical evaluation of extracts of the plant as the preferred route to the commercialisation of products derived from the plant. This aspect of the work is being funded by the Technology Innovation Agency and specifically focuses on the management and treatment of BPH. A patent has been filed by the CSIR for this specific use. To commercialise the product, the CSIR has partnered with Afriplex to complete the remaining development programme and to market and distribute the product.
This project demonstrates that South African organisations can produce registered herbal medicine derived from the botanical specimens available in this country, instead of importing products. By adding value locally and through the application of South African know-how and technology, a solid platform is created to present effective products.