Gold mine

Pharmacologist says there’s money in medicinal plants

The development of the medicinal plants industry is a potential gold mine for Barbados, says University of the West Indies pharmacologist Dr Damien Cohall as he called for serious efforts to build the sector.

Dr Cohall, who has just formally launched his book Medicinal Plants of Barbados for the Treatment of Communicable and Non-communicable Diseases, has issued an invitation to public and private interests to invest in the sector.

Dr Damien Cohall
Dr Damien Cohall

“This is a gold mine that we are sitting here on in Barbados so that if you are willing to consider any business idea this is it. We may not be able to go as far as pharmaceutical products, we can make nutraceuticals, and we can make cosmoceuticals.”

He pointed out that the Caribbean has a wide variety of plants, including cerasee, gooseberries, bayleaf and moringa that could be developed into effective pharmaceutical agents.

However, he stressed that more efficient laboratories were needed along with resources to conduct research.

“We can actually develop successful compounds and drugs which can actually be used to effectively combat some of these chronic diseases that we are suffering from in the Caribbean,” he told Barbados TODAY.

Dr Cohall lamented that there was too much exploitation of the Caribbean’s herbal plant resources in the past and the region should not make that mistake going forward.

“We have to get quite knowledgeable and savvy about retaining and protecting our raw material resources and also being very smart about what is critical to be retained,” he said.

“In terms of intellectual property, we should look much further than saying that we just have the raw material, which are the plants, but we should be identifying methodologies on how to extract the compounds, how to test the compound and to identify single compounds which are good drug candidates for further development into potential pharmaceutical agents.”

Dr Cohall, however, suggested that the sector has not been fully explored because too often potential investors shy away from working with the university because they believe that the investment to start the project is too significant.

He has proposed a new model that would be a win-win for all involved.

“If someone thinks that this is a worthwhile business opportunity, or a group of companies thinks this is a worthwhile business opportunity, they can form a think tank where they can share ideas but also consider putting aside company profits or a small percentage towards developing a pool of funds which could aid in the development of the research which would be required to bring those ideas going forward,” he said.

“We believe that it is important for this pooling of ideas and funds to come together so it will decrease the investment costs by the individual business owners and they will be able to contribute towards a common idea or a common goal whereas a lot of them will benefit and we the researchers at the UWI will then be able to bring about fast, efficient and effective solutions.”

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