By Chris Patterson
KINGSTON, Jamaica, (JIS) – A Phytomedicine Medical Cannabis Institute is to be established in Jamaica, part of the research partnership with Harvard International Phytomedicine and Medical Cannabis Institute.
A team from Harvard International Phytomedicine and Medical Cannabis Institute is currently in Jamaica to tour the University of the West Indies, Natural Products Institute, Biotech Research, and Development Institute, the Scientific Research Council, University of Technology and Northern Caribbean University, which showcases Jamaica’s work in phytomedicine research.
Phytomedicine is a plant-based traditional medicinal practice that utilises various plant materials in preventive and therapeutic processes. The research partnership aims to explore Jamaica’s vast botanical resources and its natural medicinal properties for the development of new nutraceutical and pharmaceutical products.
The economic growth council and the ministry of industry, commerce, agriculture, and fisheries will be coordinating the project to ensure that there is economic gain for all stakeholders, particularly farmers and traditional herbalists who possess decades of knowledge in plant medicine.
Speaking at a press briefing October 1, in Kingston, minister of industry, commerce, agriculture and fisheries, Audley Shaw, said the global phytomedicine industry is expected to reach US$111 billion with an annual growth of 7.2 percent.
“With Jamaica’s rich plant diversity, the traditional use of medicinal plants, and advances in scientific research and technological development, the country stands to benefit from and contribute to this new and emerging field,” Shaw said.
“Jamaica has 52 percent of the established medicinal plants of the world. More than 85 percent of our population still uses some form of herbs or potion to treat common illnesses, from a common cold to cancer,” the minister observed. He lamented that Jamaica has been slow to leverage the benefits of the local herbs to the advantage of its people, commercially and financially.
“If you travel around this country, you see a lot of idle lands and you see a lot of idle hands, and we can’t hold on to sugar anymore. We now have to move aggressively into diversification, and one of those areas of diversification is the phytomedicine industry,” Shaw noted.
He said Harvard University, through its Harvard Catalyst, has acknowledged the importance of plant medicine for economic empowerment. “Jamaica was chosen to be a part of the International Phytomedicine and Medicinal Institute. With the technology and research of Harvard and the science of our herbs, we will take plant-based medicine and extracts to a new dimension,” the minister said.
Director, Harvard Global Health Catalyst, Professor Wilfred Ngwa, said investment in research and development is crucial, as it drives economic development as well as healthcare.
“In this particular case, what is particularly unique for the ministry is that this research and development starts from the farm to the bedside,” he said.
Vice President, Economic Growth Council, Dr Sherene Smith, said the development of a Phytomedicine and Medical Cannabis Institute in Jamaica will validate the country’s medicinal plants in terms of safety, efficacy, and dosage in their clinical use.
She continued: “It will also facilitate participation in joint research, utilising information and communications technology (ICT), artificial intelligence, biotechnology and informatics to patent and commercialise plants and plant extracts.”
“This will, in turn, allow the agronomist and traditional herbalists to be a part of this venture, utilising indigenous knowledge to gain intellectual property rights and part ownership of patents. In this way, indigenous knowledge and resources will be scientifically validated and made medically useful, while creating jobs and increasing wealth,” she said.
Dr Smith said the economic growth council recognises that research plays a key role in growth and development and this project provides the means to pull together traditional medicine and advancements made in technology to make a worthwhile contribution to the health and agricultural sectors.
“We see this as an investment in human capital that will stimulate economic growth and development,” she said.