More money allotted for malunggay research

Rappler.com
The government is increasing the budget for health research, a large slug of which will go to fund a project for turning malunggay into medicine

MANILA, Philippines – The government is increasing the budget for health research by 150% — from P80-M in 2011 to P200-M, according to Dr Jaime C. Montoya of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD).

Top among the PCHRD’s program is the P80-M Moringga project which explores the curative properties of malunggay and seeks to produce a medicine from it beyond using it as a food supplement.  

LOCAL CURATIVE. Malunggay has been extolled for its high vitamin C and A content. Photo courtesy of www.bicol.da.gov.ph.

Moringga, or malunggay as its called in the Philippines, is known as a rich source of vitamin C, calcium, and potassium. 

“We’re looking at moringga as drug for high cholesterol, for diabetes to lower blood sugar, and also as anti-cancer. We have a big group working on that at UP (University of the Philippines) Diliman since malunggay has already been proven as a food supplement. But we’re looking at its use now for medicine,” said Montoya in an interview during the weekend anniversary celebration of PCHRD.

Currently, other indigenous herbs are going through commercialization. Yerba buena is being created as a pain-killer for headaches, acapulco for fungal disease, and sambong to reduce high uric acid levels in the blood and help treat kidney stones. Ampalaya is being formed into improved high dosage tablets to help treat diabetes. 

PCHRD hopes that these herbal drugs will be commercially successful, like the lagundi developed by PCHRD and National Integrated Research Program on Medicinal Plants (NIRPROMP). 

Lagundi

In 2011 the government granted a Filipino firm a lagundi syrup license, provided some of the royalties generated were turned back to local drug and research development.

Lagundi has been incredibly successful and has cornered 25% of the cough syrup market which is traditionally dominated by multinational firms. 

Doctors are considering turning malunggay into both a tablet and syrup form, similar to how lagundi started off as a tablet and gained market success in syrup form through brands of Herbs and Nature or Pharmacare. 

Time pressure

There is some time pressure to discover and patent native herb cures.

“We have to declare it as our traditional knowledge, so others can’t claim it as their own,” said Montoya.

PCHRD is working to create a Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), like the one in India, to protect the Philippines’ age-old herbal remedies.

He explained that the library would help reduce biopiracy wherein another country could claim intellectual property rights for a native Philippine cure.

Montoya said, “Like India, we have one of the most diverse ethnic communities in the world,” highlighting the need to “publish it as part of our national heritage.”

The library PCHRD is working on would compile data from the traditional knowledge of all ethnic communities across the Philippines. The library could then be included in the Health Registry, which is harmonizing all the government’s health reasearch programs.

More is needed

Despite the budget increase, researchers say more funds are needed. 

The higher health research budget of P200-M combined with the P300-M health research fund of the Department of Health means the health research system fund totals P500-M. 

Despite the increase, this research and development fund still falls far below the 1% of GDP recommended by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization and World Health Organization. 

“Even if we increased it, we’re still just at the 0.1 to 0.3% of GDP. This is why we hope the PNHRS (Philippine National Health Research System) bill will be approved within this Congress. We’ll start again from scratch if this is not approved,” said Montoya.

The budget is meant to fund a set of programs under the much planned National Unified Health Research Agenda (NUHRA). But the NUHRA consistently lacks funds, and has not reached the full funding mark. – Rappler.com