New herbal solution for fungal skin infections developed by UP Manila

Skin fungal infections rank among the most frequent concerns in dermatology and primary care facilities, impacting more than a billion individuals worldwide.

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UP Manila / Facebook 

These infections are highly contagious, especially prevalent among Filipinos due to environmental factors like heat and humidity, as well as socioeconomic conditions such as overcrowding, poverty, and poor hygiene.

Azole antifungals are effective in treating these infections, but they can be costly and often necessitate prolonged application.

Acknowledging this challenge, the University of the Philippines Manila's National Integrated Research Program on Medicinal Plants (NIRPROMP) has developed an herbal antifungal lotion utilizing the Indigenous Akapulco plant (Senna Alata).

Breakthrough solution

“One solution to this problem is the use of Senna alata, more commonly known as Akapulco,” said Dr. Cecilia Maramba-Lazarte, Director of the Institute of Herbal Medicine - National Institutes of Health (IHM-NIH) said in a statement issued Friday, June 7.

Also referred to as Candlestick Bush, UP Manila explained the Akapulco is a perennial shrub extensively found throughout the Philippines which typically grows to a height of one to two meters and is characterized by dense branches and leaves composed of 8 to 20 oblong-elliptical leaflets.

“The plant is notable for its erect stalks that bear candle-like yellow flowers at their tips, from which it derives its name,” UP Manila said.

In addition to being valued for its distinctive appearance and ornamental qualities, UP Manila said the Candlestick Bush is also highly regarded for its “potential natural remedies” for specific ailments.

“Traditional healers and those of other cultures have used this to treat skin diseases. 
The antifungal activity of Akapulco has been well-documented in various studies,” Lazarte explained.

Citing studies, UP Manila said Akapulco contains several phytochemicals, including chrysophanic acid and anthraquinones.

These plant-based compounds exhibit strong antifungal activity against Epidermophyton, Microsporum, Trichophyton, and Penicillium, it added.

Lazarte explained that the effectiveness of Philippine Akapulco preparations had been assessed through the results of seven randomized controlled trials involving 726 patients.

Four trials were conducted using the NIRPROMP-IHM formulation, which enrolled 461 patients.

UP Manila said these trials demonstrated that preparations containing Akapulco are as effective as synthetic antifungal treatments containing 25 percent sodium thiosulfate, ketoconazole, or terbinafine cream.

NIRPROMP co-founder and Mother of Philippine Herbal Medicine Dr. Nelia Maramba led the trials according to UP Manila.

Researchers observed minimal adverse effects from Akapulco lotion compared to conventional treatments.

“Randomized controlled trials are crucial to establish the efficacy and safety of treatments,” Lazarte explained. “Our findings indicate that Akapulco lotion offers a cost-effective alternative to imported antifungal medications,” she added.

Promoting Filipino self-reliance 

Lazarte highlighted that potential investors could capitalize on the global antifungal drug market, which was valued at $15.8 billion in 2023 and is expected to expand further.

“By licensing our herbal medicine, pharmaceutical companies can tap into this expanding market,” she said.

Aside from economic benefits, the development of Akapulco lotion also enhances local agriculture and promotes Filipino self-reliance.

“Our goal is to diminish dependence on imported drugs, bolster Filipino farmers, and offer an accessible treatment solution for fungal infections,” Lazarte said.

UP Manila said the NIRPROMP/IHM is actively seeking partners to manufacture, distribute, and market Akapulco lotion as an antifungal remedy.

The institute has a track record of success, having previously developed the well-regarded herbal medicines Lagundi and Sambong, which are now enjoying commercial success nationwide.