With R5.4 million in support from the Innovation for Poverty Alleviation Programme there is a project underway that aims to improve South African researchers’ capability to develop effective medicines and related substances.  This is a step in the right direction if South Africa is to start successfully patenting many medicinal substances. The country has the potential to launch various products
derived from its unique indigenous plants. In reality most research into and development of the few products traded internationally and based on South African plants has been done by international companies.

Early research done at universities for academic purposes, the absence of product development in line with market needs, a lack of a reliable supply of plant material through cultivation, poor quality procedures and a lack of funding and infrastructure for product development are among the main reasons for this.

To build on research done in this area by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) (www.csir.co.za) this project will see existing facilities at the CSIR being upgraded to serve as a training demonstration processing and formulation facility.  The upgrade will entail investment in:

  • a pre-processing area for the receipt of plant material, inspection areas for the plants, their washing and/or cleaning, slicing, herb drying and grinding.
  • additional water extraction vessels in an aqueous extraction area.
  • the write-up room being extended.
  • a new facility in the form of an organic extraction area for specialised organic extraction of plants being established.
  • a formulation facility with capsuling and tableting equipment, equipment for preparing syrups and liquid formulations, granulators, creams and labelling equipment.

The project will also invest in establishing a demonstration facility at the University of Fort Hare. It will comprise buildings to house the equipment, a receiving area for plant inspection, a plant cleaning area with facilities for plant material to be washed, slicing and chopping equipment, drying equipment such as a herb drier, grinding equipment for dust collection, such as a hammer mill with appropriate dust collectors, selected extraction – if feasible – as well as a packaging and dispatch area and equipment such as packing equipment and labelling.

Eleven jobs will be created and skills will be transferred to young graduate scientists from historically disadvantaged higher education institutions and labourers near the cultivation sites. Because of this project, postgraduate University of South Africa (www.unisa.ac.za) students from various regions in South Africa will be trained at CSIR facilities.

The plants to be used by this project include devil’s claw, mesembryanthemum, African ginger, milk thistle, and aloe ferox.