Kenya’s leading research institute has begun exploring the efficacy of one of its herbal and traditional medicines likely to treat Covid-19.
Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) has identified Zedupex, an in-house herbal medicine used in the treatment of genital herpes, a common viral disease that causes sores on the mouth and genitals.
The drug licensed by the Pharmacy and Poisons Board in 2015 was developed by Kenyan scientists from medicinal trees.
The search for both a cure and a vaccine for the coronavirus has intensified around the globe, including in Kenya, as medical researchers race to find the elusive remedy.
Dr. Festus Tolo of Kenya’s Medical Research Institute is the lead scientist tasked with finding out whether a herb-based drug will be effective against COVID-19. Zedupex, developed in 2015 by Kenyan researchers, has been used in the treatment of herpes.
Tolo says his team does not know yet whether the drug will work against the virus.
“We are still in very early stages. We cannot be able to say, knowing that the herpes simplex virus is a DNA virus and the coronavirus is an RNA virus,” he said.
“This really means that we need to, first of all confirm or check whether there’s activity before we can be able to really say this is a product we can explore further for COVID management.”
The WHO’s Kenya representative Rudi Eggers says that standardizing the various herbal cures could be quite a challenge.
“In other medicines, we find that there are specific levels of the active ingredient and in herbal cures you frequently find varied components and the levels of those components in there,” Eggers said.
“So, in fact you’d have to standardize these cures to make sure that you know what is in them and what component is actually acting. So that’s quite a step to be taken before actually evaluating these cures.”
Zedupex is sold in small-scale through the institute’s production department. The researchers will be working in the laboratory to test the activity and safety of the compound on Covid-19 treatment.
The trials are being carried out at Kemri’s laboratory. The drug has not been administered to any coronavirus patient.
But as Kenya tries to explore the treatment of the virus with traditional medicines, the African Union says it will now start testing the controversial herbal remedy for Covid-19 from Madagascar.
At least five African countries continue to receive supplies of the remedy despite the World Health Organisation (WHO) warning about its use.
Despite these hurdles, researchers at KEMRI are pressing ahead with their study of herbal treatments for COVID-19.
Kenya itself has seen more than 1,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus disease so far, and about 50 deaths.