The African Medicines Innovations and Technologies Development Platform (AMITD)within the Department of Pharmacology at the University of the Free State (UFS) hosted a delegation from the Chinese Embassy in Pretoria, led by the Minister-Counsellor of the People’s Republic of China. The aim of the visit was to cement the collaborative relationship between UFS Indigenous Knowledge System (IKS) and the Beijing University of Chinese Medicines (BUCM).
The visit of the Minister-Counsellor, Mr Shen Long, and his staff in Science and Technology on Friday (19 May 2023) was also to gain support for the application for two projects between the UFS and BUCM, said Prof Motlalepula Matsabisa, Director of Pharmacology at the UFS and Head of AMITD.
“First is the innovation project that we are spearheading in order to be recognised as a Presidential project, the signing of which will be witnessed by both the presidents of South Africa and China during the BRICS Summit in August.”
“The second project is that of the UFS driving the establishment of the BRICS Natural Medicines Institute, supported by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), the National Department of Health (DoH), and the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO). The UFS has been earmarked to head this institute. All the BRICS countries’ scientists support the UFS’ idea of a BRICS Natural Medicines Institute,” said Prof Matsabisa.
The UFS Pharmacology IKS also made a presentation during a virtual meeting with the natural products scientists in the BRICS countries for support and adoption of the concept on the BRICS Natural Medicines Institute.
The Chinese delegation also got to tour FARMOVS and the new AMITD laboratories.
Collaboration and co-creation
Prof Francis Petersen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS, said he would like to see how the relationship between the UFS and BUCM can be strengthened and how it can be fed into the China-South Africa bilateral.
According to him, the university is open to supporting such initiatives, and hopefully this indigenous knowledge hub can become a critical focal point within such a potential institute under BRICS.
“It is important to see how different contexts play out in research and development. Collaboration and the whole aspect of co-creation is quite important, and I think there is a good relationship between the UFS and the BUCM that started some years ago; this is a good illustration of how important collaboration is.” He further wished to see the collaboration between BUCM and the UFS go beyond IKS to other aspects of research, health, and teaching.
The basis of the relationship between BUCM and the UFS, specifically in the Department of Pharmacology and this IKS group, is built on collaboration and co-creation. The question now, according to Prof Petersen, is how to expand and strengthen that relationship. He said that without any support from funding agencies, governments, and support through structured programmes such as bilateral agreements, this programme and collaboration engagement would not be possible.
BUCM and UFS can play important role in traditional medicine
Mr Shen said several collaboration projects already exist between China and South Africa in the area of science and technology. He said: “We also want to promote collaboration between the two sides in the area of biotechnology, including agricultural, medical, as well as traditional. We also promote collaboration on traditional medicine; in China, our traditional medicine has helped to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Here in South Africa, you are only starting with traditional African medicine. You want to develop your own standards, while in China we have already developed teaching about this, so we would like to cooperate in this area. You can learn a lot from China, and we can learn from South Africa as well.”
According to him, China can help South Africa collaborate with partners to develop its own traditional medicine and the whole value chain in traditional medicine, from the medical plants to clinical trials to manufacturing. “BUCM and the UFS can play a very important role in this particular area.”
Prof Xu Anlong, President of BUCM, pledged his support for this collaboration between the two institutions via Zoom. He said he hoped it would be successful and fruitful and hopefully they can train some of the UFS students at BUCM.
UFS to host BRICS institute
Prof Matsabisa, who was previously awarded a Visiting Professorship at BUCM in Beijing, China, further said he hoped the collaboration can be strengthened and expanded to other disciplines in terms of research and health.
“The complete value chain of traditional medicine and medicinal plant development is something of interest to us, especially the UFS, because we are going down that route. The UFS has been asked by the DST and the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) to lead a team of experts to assist and advise government on how we can contribute to the amendment of the Medicines Act and how we can propose a regulatory framework for traditional medicine products for SAHPRA to regulate.”
“This is something that has been driven by the UFS in the context of developing South African traditional medicines – developing all value chains to include commercialisation. This also means medium- to long-term development of curricula that will pave the way for the integrated health system in South Africa.”
Prof Matsabisa is already thinking of a pilot programme for integrated health facilities or clinics, where medical doctors and trained traditional health practitioners could work side by side in the same facilities and attend to the same patients. He will also convene two meetings of BRICS scientists as part of a proposed BRICS Institute for Training, Research and Innovation in Natural Medicines hosted by the UFS.