The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) said on Tuesday it had signed a deal with a United Kingdom pharmaceutical company to develop an anti-obesity drug from a plant used by the San people.
“A cooperation agreement has been signed with Phytopharm, a United Kingdom-based pharmaceutical development and functional food company, for further development and commercialisation of Hoodia Gordonii for the management of obesity,” the council said.
The commercialisation process would be led by the CSIR and had the full support of the South African San Council, it added.
CSIR group manager for intellectual property and technology transfer Johan Hattingh said the project would require “scientific innovation and substantial investment in order for it to be successful”.
Clinical studies would also be conducted with the help of outside experts to advise the CSIR on the option for developing products using Sceletium tortuosum, known by the San as “kanna” and “kougoed”.
South African researchers obtained the first licence to study and market the drug, Sceletium tortuosum, in October.
The plant has been used to reduce hunger, thirst and fatigue and is said to have sedative, hypnotic and mood-elevating effects. It is commonly chewed, but also can be made into tea or smoked. Researchers say the plant has few downsides.