African researchers are raising funds to conduct their own clinical trials on the mugwort plant to study its potential for treating Covid-19. A herbal tea made from mugwort extract has recently been presented by the Malagasy government as a treatment against the coronavirus. However, no full clinical trial on the plant’s efficacy against Covid-19 has been performed.
“I am cautiously optimistic,” said Frank van der Kooy, a researcher at the University of the Northwest, South Africa, who is interested in the reported antiviral properties of the artemisia plant.
Van der Kooy has launched a crowdfunding initiative on the BackaBuddy platform, managed by a non-profit company based in South Africa, and has a first fundraising objective of 26,000 euros. The money raised through crowdfunding will be managed by North-West University.
Artemisinin, a compound derived from Artemisia annua plant is used as part of treatment against malaria. And Van der Kooy made a laboratory tests for artemisia activity against HIV.
The South African expert, long involved in the analysis of medicinal plants, is joining forces with Jérôme Munyangi, a Congolese doctor from the faculty of medicine at the University of Kolweri-Lualaba.
Munyangi performed clinical trials in the Democratic Republic of Congo compare artemisia tea infusions to combination therapy with artemisinin.
Munyangi’s research, published in the Phytomedicine journal, concluded that the infusions of both Artemisia annua and Artemisia afra, another species of the plant, has shown better results than artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT).
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the use of so-called monotherapies could lead to resistance to antimalarial drugs.
Break the plant
“About 1,000 unique molecules have been identified in Artemisia annua and about 100 in Artemisia afra“Van der Kooy told RFI.” We need to determine which of these molecules, such as artemisinin, are important for bioactivity. ”
Further chemical analyzes on mugwort should be done before clinical trials, according to Van der Kooy. The grass will be broken down into its separate molecules and tested against the virus in a lab.
“You end up with a list of important molecules that must be present during formulation,” said Van der Kooy, explaining the process of “bioguided fractionation”.
The next step in the formulation is to figure out how to put the important molecules in a stable form with a shelf life.
The two Artemisia annua and Artemisia afra will be explored and scientists hope that possible clinical trials could be conducted in the DRC given the experience of Munyangi’s research group.
The trials would ideally take place on patients with Covid-19 receiving treatment in hospital, but this would additionally be decided during an ethics review process, Van der Kooy said.
The project would use plants grown at Northwestern University and the eventual treatment could take the form of tea. “Ideally, it will be a tablet or a capsule,” said Van der Kooy, who works at Pharmacy, the university center of pharmaceutical sciences.
Go beyond Covid-Organics
The crowdfunding initiative follows a considerable promotion of a herbal tea made from mugwort presented by Madagascan President Andry Rajoelina, calling the Covid-Organics product a cure for the coronavirus.
The Madagascan leader promoted Covid-Organics to the leaders of several other African countries, recently announcing that he would send the herbal tea to Haiti.
On the other hand, the WHO said it had not yet received any data on the use of artemisia against the coronavirus, saying there was no basis to claim it was effective treatment.
The South African government has said it will help authorities in Madagascar. Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said: “Our scientific research institutes will be ready to support an analysis”, following discussions with Rajoelina’s government.
“I haven’t heard anything from the government or our funding agencies,” Van der Kooy said, when asked if the South African Minister of Health had kept his promise to scientifically test Covid-Organics.
Van der Kooy believes the only way to make clinical trials run quickly is to gain public support. “Unfortunately, the wheels of funding agencies turn exceptionally slowly and when funding becomes available, if it does, the world will likely be grappling with a different pandemic.”