From folklore to modern medicine
Traditional knowledge Research and development Invention Utility model Licensing and commercialization Trademarks Technology transfer Business results. National Integrated Research Program on Medicinal Plants (Philippines)
In 1974, the University of the Philippines Manila (UPM), other universities, and various government research agencies under the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) of the Republic of the Philippines (Philippines) collaborated to to form the National Integrated Research Program for Medicinal Plants (NIRPROMP), with a mandate to distribute affordable medicines to the poor, spread the use of herbal preparations with proven medicinal efficacy, and identify scientifically validated medicines that would improve the pharmaceutical sector in the Philippines.
- NIRPROMP was established to address the rising costs of imported pharmaceuticals, especially those used to treat common ailments such as the common cold, fever, and headache.
- At that time, the country’s pharmaceutical sector was not self-sufficient in these drugs, and companies spent about 150 million Philippine pesos (about US$22 million at the time) a year to import drugs.
These imported drugs were also prohibitively expensive, out of reach for many patients. With this in mind, NIRPROMP’s priorities were to reduce the country’s dependency on imports and to provide people with more affordable pharmaceuticals using locally manufactured herbal medicines.
Traditional knowledge made its way to the metropolis of Manila
One of these innovations came in 1995, when NIRPROMP succeeded in isolating Vitex negundo, a large, aromatic, hardy five-leaved shrub with bluish-purple flowers, as a natural source for an effective plant-based medicine. This species, known in the Philippines as lagundi, manages to thrive in both humid and arid climates in Africa and Asia, and has been used by local populations for centuries to effectively treat wounds, headaches, ulcers, skin diseases, diarrhea and the common cold, among other ailments. After successfully identifying the medicinal properties of each part of the plant, NIRPROMP developed a lagundi-derived formula for a clinically proven cough and asthma medicine in tablets and syrup.
The local populations of the Philippines have taken advantage of the medicinal properties of lagundi for centuries, but these properties were not described in detail until the publication in 1900 of a book by a Spanish Jesuit, Father Colín. In his book, Father Colín narrates that the Filipinos commonly used lagundi to treat wounds and as a medicine for pain.
He also discovered that they had extensive traditional knowledge about the different medicinal properties of each part of the plant. For example, while the leaves are often used to relieve headaches and cleanse ulcers, the seeds are used to treat skin conditions.
- The flowers of the plant are used to treat various diseases, such as diarrhea and cholera, and its black fruit is dried and eaten to relieve and regulate intestinal discomfort.
- Finally, Father Colín discovered that the roots are used to treat rheumatism and dysentery. This traditional knowledge of medicine around the lagundi is often disseminated through herbolaryos, traditional healers who use their traditional knowledge to prepare and administer herbal medicines.
Herbolaryos have served as medicinal authorities in many local communities in the Philippines for generations and have been highly respected and trusted by many of these communities throughout the country.