South African scientists have developed a new drug to treat malaria by using extracts from an indigenous plant of the Asteraceae family, a South African newspaper reported on Wednesday.
The country's Medical Research Council (MRC) said tests had shown "promising results," indicating that the drug could eradicate the malaria infection from the bloodstream.
The MRC was now seeking a partner to commercialize the drug, financial daily Business Report said, citing Gilbert Matsabisa, the MRC's director of indigenous knowledge systems.
Matsabisa said the plant was indigenous to sub-Saharan Africa and was concentrated in central South Africa up to Zimbabwe and Zambia, but he would not divulge the name of the plant.
The MRC stumbled upon the plant's use as a treatment for malaria through "pure serendipity." It was traditionally used as a remedy for stomach ailments.
The World Health Organization estimates that between 80 percent and 90 percent of malaria deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, where 90 percent of people infected with the disease live.
There are 300 million to 500 million cases of malaria each year, resulting in 1.5 million to 2.7 million deaths annually.
Matsabisa said they intend to develop a drug that is " accessible and affordable" to treat the malaria problems of sub- Saharan Africa and other developing countries.
The MRC intended to retain the intellectual property of the new drug in South Africa and develop it on its own soil.
The Asteraceae family has more than 25,000 species worldwide with more than 2,300 species in southern Africa. It is commonly known as the aster, daisy or sunflower family.
Well-known medicinal plants in this family include the African wormwood and the wild camphor bush.