The Sentrong Katutubong Yaman (Sekaya), an affiliate of United Laboratories, Inc. (Unilab), the leading pharmaceutical and healthcare company in the Philippines, is tapping into the country’s rich biodiversity to develop natural medicinal products with the help of science and technology (S&T).
Sekaya signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology to enhance research and development (R&D) on health, especially in medicinal plants.
The MoU signing was held during the recent inauguration of the Sekaya Research and Development plant at the Unilab Pharma Campus in Mamplasan, Laguna. The facility is envisioned to become a collaborative R&D center for local medicinal plants and as a platform to develop natural products based on science to help the indigenous communities and small farmers benefit from the country’s rich resources.
“Indigenous communities and farmers, who are among the poorest in the country, have a lot to gain from the development of plant-based natural products in terms of livelihood and health benefits,” said Dr. Eliseo Banaynal, Executive Director of Sekaya.
Agricultural research points out that lack of access to modern technology and technical expertise are among the barriers that prevent Filipino farmers from being competitive and from increasing their income. Through the Sekaya facility, small farmers can tap the expertise of scientists and gain access to innovative technologies and processes.
The Philippines is one of the 17 megadiverse countries in the world or the world’s top biodiversity-rich countries, which host two-thirds of the Earth’s biodiversity and contain about 70 to 80 percent of the world’s plant and animal species. The country ranks fifth in terms of number of plant species and home to five percent of the world’s plants (about 10,000 to 13,000 species of plants described and recorded).
“The Philippines’ rich biodiversity should be protected at all cost, at the same time we should make sure that benefits from it will redound to the Filipinos. Unilab, through Sekaya with the help of science and technology, will support communities in cultivating and developing practical applications for the country’s natural resources that will be beneficial to them,” said Joey Ochave, Senior Vice President of Unilab.
For the DOST’s part, PCHRD Executive Director Dr. Jaime Montoya underscored the government’s call for continuous development of the country’s biodiversity for health-related discoveries, particularly plant-based medicines. DOST, through PCHRD, has been at the forefront of the government’s efforts to develop herbal medicines to maximise the potential of medicinal plants which abound all over the country.
“We could not have found a better partner than Unilab in this collaborative R&D initiative. The company has always been guided by its commitment in supporting initiatives and programs that would help Filipinos live healthier lives—most especially those who belong to the base of the pyramid,” added Montoya.
According to PCHRD, experts have identified over 1,500 indigenous medicinal plants in the Philippines. Globally, there is renewed interest and demand for herbal medicines in recent years. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that eight out of 10 people worldwide use herbal medicines.
It is stated under the Global Strategic Plan for Biodiversity of the Convention on Biological Diversity cites that, “by 2050, biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all people.”
Environment protection and stewardship is a priority under the MoU. It cites that Sekaya and PCHRD “commit to work together as stewards of Philippine biodiversity, particularly in the development of plant-based natural products”.
Also present during the signing of the MoU and the inauguration of the Sekaya R&D Pant were Dr. Rowena Guevara, DOST Undersecretary for Research and Development; Honorable Carmencita Ongsiako-Reyes, Governor of Marinduque; Dr. Fabian Dayrit, Professor at the Ateneo de Manila University Department of Chemistry; Dr. Dolores Ramirez, National Scientist; Dr. Teresita Borromeo, Professor and Head of the Plant Genetic Division of UP Los Banos; and Dr. Cecilia Maramba, Director of the National Institutes of Health.