Jamaican scientist Dr Henry Lowe says he and a team of fellow researchers have found that a flavonoid they had isolated from the cannabis plant five years ago has the potential to mitigate against COVID-19, and the development has attracted the attention and support of the United States National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“What is exciting is that NIH is supporting us, which is very important, because if they didn’t see value they wouldn’t be doing it,” Dr Lowe, who is known internationally for his cancer research and use of Jamaican plants to produce neutraceuticals, told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.
News of the scientific development is published in the latest edition of Molecules, a leading online peer-reviewed open access scientific journal published each month by Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute.
Noting that flavonoids — which are actually molecules commonly found in most fruits, like oranges, graprefruit and vegetables — are widely used as phytomedicines (herbal medicine with therapeutic and healing properties), the publication pointed out that it was reporting on “flavonoid phytomedicines with potential for development into prophylactics or therapeutics against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)”.
Yesterday Dr Lowe, who was named Jamaica Observer Business Leader in 2006, explained that he and his colleague scientists had, in 2015, actually isolated the flavonoid, named Caflanone from a very rare cannabis plant strain discovered in Jamaica. At the time they were conducting research to find a drug that was effective against the coronavirus family following outbreaks of Zika, chikungunya, and previous scares of the H1N1 bird flu virus as well as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome).
“We decided to take a look at that flavonoid which we identified to see if it would be effective against these [viruses], and it was found to be bioactive against several members of the coronavirus family, but we didn’t do anything about it except publish and secured patents. But because there was no longer any emergency for us to continue dedicating time to the research into those viruses, we decided to switch back into full gear on pancreatic cancer,” said Dr Lowe, who last year received an exclusive patent from the US Government’s Patent Office for the use of Caflanone to treat pancreatic cancer.
However, after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a public health emergency of international concern in January this year, Dr Lowe and his colleagues — Drs Wilfred Ngwa, Rajiv Kumar, Daryl Thompson , William Lyerly, Roscoe Moore, Terry-Elinor Reid, and Ngeh Toyang — decided to collaborate to broaden the base of research on other flavonoids, among them Equivir, Hesperetin, Myricetin, and Linebacker.
“We have found that this flavonoid (Caflanone) has the potential to mitigate against COVID-19 and we have a lot more to come,” Lowe said. “The results are very positive.”
He said that since then the team of scientists has linked with Harvard Medical School “because a part of the need is a delivery mechanism, and Harvard has this cutting-edge nanotechnology, developed by Dr Ngwa, which is used to load our drug Caflanone onto nano drones and take it directly to the site of action”.
“It is quite clear that the novel drug Caflanone could be a game changer in the fight against COVID-19,” Dr Lowe said yesterday. “If this is achieved it could bring not only relief for the millions of sufferers of COVID-19, but also identify Jamaica as a country where scientific and medical innovation can flourish, as well as create great wealth for the country.”
Dr Toyang, who is Dr Lowe’s chief scientist, was equally optimistic. “Our team is very excited to have a drug with unique potential to combat this dreadful COVID-19 disease,” he said in a written note delivered by Dr Lowe.
Asked if he could give a timeline on the production of a drug to combat COVID-19, Dr Lowe said no.
“Since it’s all about research and development, definitive timelines cannot be given, but we expect that it should be sometime later this year for the drug to be available. For now, though, more research, including clinical trials, need to be done,” he told the Observer.