JKUAT researcher discovers herb that could offer cure for arthritis

JKUAT researcher Dr Christine Ong’ayo Wangia.

It is not every day in Kenya that you get news of a life transforming breakthrough research and that’s why when it comes, it’s worth shouting about.

A researcher at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) has been honoured by Kenya Industrial Property Institute (KIPI) for her remarkable discovery of a drug that offers hope to arthritis patients.  

Dr Christine Ong’ayo Wangia, a senior lecturer in the School of Pharmacy, Department of Pharmacology/Pharmacognosy, has been feted for discovering a Kenyan medicinal plant that could offer possible cure for arthritis.

“... it possesses antiarthritic, anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties that can be harnessed and used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis,” she said of the discovery.

This breakthrough is a major milestone in the medical world given that at the moment, there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis and the current drugs for managing the disease are costly, with several adverse effects.

Significant progress

The don says compounds in the plant species she has identified are novel, unlike the ones currently in the market.

Dr Wangia’s herbal drug is set for clinical trials in patients next year.

To protect this discovery, she has filed a patent with KIPI.  A patent is a Government authority or licence conferring a right or title for a set period, especially the sole right to exclude others from making, using, or selling an invention.

Because of intellectual property rights issues, the identity of the plant cannot be revealed at this stage.

To protect the patent, the drug is identified using a special code — (GMC10), and she is working on a trade name to be made public at the appropriate time.

Secret code

Because of patent reasons where the plant can be grown and other properties also remain top secret. 

Though she has made significant progress with the discovery, more research is needed to refine the idea.

Dr Wangia now wants to embark on the formulation of the drug in oral dosage forms and then conduct clinical trials in patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis next year.

Like all researchers, she faced a number of hurdles along her journey.

Lack of funds was also a challenge which in turn impacted on the timelines of her research work which took longer than initially anticipated.

The juggling her many roles was also a challenge.

“...with partial study leave, I still had to teach, supervise students’ projects, as well as those on attachment, attend school board meetings at the university and creating time for my research.”

She also faced peculiar challenges that impacted on the research timelines.

“Shuttling between six laboratories in JKUAT and the Kenya Medical Research Institute was tedious, plus moving around with samples from one lab to another. If researchers could conduct research under one roof, it would ease their work and significantly enhance their output,” says Dr Wangia. 

Against all odds

Despite the many odds against her, she triumphed like all trailblazers.

“This recognition means a lot to me. I faced many challenges but God helped me to pull through,” Dr Wangia said while receiving the honours. 

Her sights are now set on giving back to the University through mentoring researchers who are keen to go beyond the laboratory research.

She was one of the three women who filed patents, out of the 20honoured by KIPI during celebrations to mark the World Intellectual Property Day.

Write a book

To support fellow women inventors, Dr Wangia appeals for capacity building to undertake short training on the manufacture of herbal products in Japan or China to enable her gain practical skills and knowledge that can contribute to the health component of the Big Four Agenda. 

Ultimately, the researcher plans to write a book on standardisation of herbal products in Kenya, giving insights on plant collection, phytochemical screening, safety studies and bioassays, up to formulation of various dosage forms.