By Jed Macapagal, Malaya Business Insight
Stricter laws in the sale of medicines and dietary supplements as well as the establishment of a proper process for beneficial claims are needed to improve the country’s pharmaceutical industry, according to researchers from the De La Salle Medical and Health Sciences Institute (DLSMHSI).
Dr. Alicia Catabay, chair of the research and development of DLSMHSI’s College of Pharmacy, said in a briefing over the weekend they are lobbying for a law to properly regulate the sale of medicine and supplements, especially those that are purchased from e-commerce sites.
Catabay cited the need to protect consumers against the proliferation of products which claim to have medicinal benefits even they did not go through proper research and clinical trials.
Substances that are already classified as drugs may be prescribed by doctors while the use of dietary supplements are only based on personal preference of consumers, she added.
Catabay made the appeal during the organization’s presentation of the results on the study of antioxidant properties of Narra tree.
“We are doing a series of research, so we are not just working on Narra right now, but we are working on a lot of plant samples. If you look at the market, there are many plants out there claiming to be effective for such illnesses. However, these plants are called dietary supplements or nutraceuticals and they are different from drugs because samples like these usually do not undergo a rigorous process of registration,” she explained.
“We don’t know if a dietary supplement may have zero to 100 percent constituent. It is possible that one can claim that it has such properties but (which) are actually absent or could be above normal levels so we don’t currently have control. …It is better to have research because it will establish the amount that could be taken to achieve a certain activity,” Catabay added.
At present, she said, around P3 million to P6 million is needed to fund a clinical trial to test a substance’s effectivity for a certain disease, with researchers currently helped by the government through the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development as well as the National Research Council of the Philippines and the Department of Science and Technology.
Such trials can also be funded by local pharmaceutical companies, but Catabay said the government may do more to protect and encourage pioneers of such studies.
“For example, if Narra is commissioned for a clinical trial, manufacturers are obliged to announce it and some other firms will follow suit, they are not protected. That is something that can be encouraged by the government… In the US, they give a certain window of time for manufacturers to sell the formulation exclusively before it becomes public for you to gain back your investments,” Catabay said.
She also said at present, it takes at least 10 years to complete clinical trials on substances to be classified as drugs while mere months in order to be tagged as dietary supplements.
Meanwhile, DLSMHSI’s research on Narra concluded that its bark and branch wood have antioxidant properties using the oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC), a method used to measure antioxidant capacity of different foods.
Antioxidants are the body’s natural defense against harmful compounds linked to multiple illnesses including weakened immunity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
“There is a list by the United States Department of Agriculture and the Narra extract, based on the ORAC score, ranks among the 10 percent foods that have antioxidant properties. That means to say that the Narra extract is number one in the Philippines when it comes to antioxidant properties if we look at the ORAC score,” said Sigfredo Mata, DLSMHSI professor and contributing editor of the research.
Mata also assured that such research ventures are being made to be sustainable. Under the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing, manufacturers are required to provide an action plan to make the harvest of resources in a manner that will not be destructive and are beneficial to host communities as well.
Dr. Louie Legaspi, dean of DLSMHSI’s College of Pharmacy, said the results of the study open opportunities to discover more potential health benefits of Narra extracts as they plan to conduct tests to compare its activity with other antioxidants using other tests aside from ORAC scores.
“Aside from Narra, the College is also looking at the medicinal properties and benefits of ornamental plants. We are now working on mayana which is an ornamental (plant), seaweeds like lato, bunga-bunga, mangosteen, sibuyas tagalog and guyabano, among others,” Legaspi said.