The Indigenous Knowledge System (IKS) for Health in the Department of Pharmacology in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of the Free State (UFS) has been awarded an annual Technology and Innovation Agency Platform grant of R17 million for the next five years.
The research and teaching programme in the School of Clinical Medicine will be rebranded as the African Medicines Innovations and Technology Development Platform (AMITD), and strive to respond to community health needs and address industry research challenges.
Prof Motlalepula Matsabisa, director of pharmacology, said the aim was to stimulate economic growth directly and indirectly by providing science-based solutions and developing technologies using indigenous knowledge and South Africa’s iconic biodiversity to produce high-quality proprietary and commercial IKS/African Traditional Medicine (ATM) products, focusing on priority diseases.
Matsabisa is also leading Africa’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic after being appointed chairperson of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Regional Expert Advisory Committee on Traditional Medicines for COVID-19 last year.
“Through this platform, we will be able to increase the number of postgraduate students being trained and developed in IKS health and pharmacology, as well as technicians and technologists, scientists, researchers, and communities nationally and across our borders,” said Matsabisa.
“We will work with communities of practice in the field of health and traditional medical knowledge along with traditional health practitioners, encouraging them to participate meaningfully in the formal economy through their knowledge of South African biodiversity. This inclusive model will empower involved communities to become full participants in the formal economy.”
AMITD will answer industry needs and questions through technology development
According to Matsabisa, AMITD will work with private pharmaceutical companies to address technological challenges regarding herbal or traditional medicine products needing improvement, and even develop new products for the market. The main scope of the platform would be to conduct applied and need-driven health research.
It is envisaged as a unique platform including focused technology development, community and indigenous knowledge-holder participation, inclusive innovation, bioprocessing, early commercialisation and support.
Matsabisa said the platform would see the UFS IKS compete favourably with other institutions globally. The university has declared the IKS as its flagship initiative and would like to advance relevant innovation by transforming informal sectors into formal secondary economies that will be translated into actual decent job creation.
The long term goal was the establishment of an AMIDT Institute, and to become the international IKS research hub. “We would ideally be the preferred research institute for training, research, and technology development for industry, government and local communities, and form partnerships with leading national and international institutions,” added Matsabisa.
Overall benefits would be skills development, job and wealth creation at community level, high-level training at higher-education level, and industrial and business developments around IKS/ATM production activities.
The AMIDT would move the country from the current resource-based thinking to a more intensive, knowledge-based thinking and development.
“Abundance of natural resources means nothing to the country if those resources cannot add value and develop commodities for industry development and job creation, including social impacts.”
Why IKS TIA platform for UFS
UFS is recognised as a national leader in pharmacology as well as research and development of IKS and traditional medicines. The institution has developed and built infrastructure in this field of scientific research, and has the best modern equipment for the training, teaching, and development of prototypes and products for commercialisation. IKS interdisciplinary and interfaculty research is undertaken in this study area, and the university has an excellent track record of sound community engagement with relevant stakeholders.
“UFS pharmacology research is also recognised internationally as the science force in South Africa and Africa on IKS and traditional medicines research. We have hosted and continue to host international students and researchers in our facilities and laboratories, which meet international scientific research standards and pharmaceutical manufacturing standards,” said Matsabisa.
The appointment of Pharmacology IKS as a platform will further strengthen current local, regional, and internationally active research collaborations.
“These collaborations exemplify the strength and potential the AMIDT platform could have in Asia, Africa, the UK, the US, Latin America, and Europe. We will strive to establish a mutually beneficial partnership with relevant players in Australia to make this a truly global IKS platform/research institute.”
The short-term goals of the platform are to
- create internationally competitive, quality, safe, effective, and easy-to-use products from local, commercially-cultivated medicinal plants in which consumers and patients have confidence;
- develop and pilot locally developed technologies to meet local pharmaceutical needs;
- create SANAS-accredited, standardised research methodologies on plant extraction, research, and validation;
- host students, technicians, technologists, researchers, and scientists (from South Africa, Africa, and abroad) to undertake short-term and long-term collaborative research;
- market the value of IKS to a competitive local industry and establish an ATM-based pharmaceutical industry in South Africa; and
- grow the platform through employment of qualified and competent personnel.
Issued by the University of the Free State