Next year should be the first time a 100 percent Moroccan made medicine will be commercialized.
Adnane Remmal, a biology researcher, has been working on a plant-based antimicrobial alternative to antibiotics for 28 years. While waiting for it to be approved for human use, he’s adapted it to plants and animals as well.
Remmal started out as a 25 year old researcher in 1988, having discovered that doctors, even back then, were concerned about antibiotic resistance.
“The advent of those multi-resistant bacteria is mostly due to the abusive and excessive use of antibiotics in humans, but also in animals who end up at the end of the chain in our plates,” Remmal told Wamda.
During 10 years of research in his lab at the Fès University, where Remmal taught, he discovered that by isolating molecules contained in plants’ essential oils and by mixing a tenth of those with a tenth of antibiotics, all resistant bacteria disappeared. (Patent here)
The cheaper plant oils combined with lower amounts of antibiotics meant vastly reduced production costs. Because he bootstrapped his research, Remmal has only needed $2 million for R&D, whereas pharmaceuticals companies can spend anywhere up to $1 billion to put a medicine on the market.
In 2004 business angel Ahmed Reda Chami, then-president of Microsoft in South East Asia, joined Remmal to start the Advanced Scientific Developments (ASD) to apply Remmal’s discoveries to human medicine, animal food and phytosanitary fields, and looked for partners.
First Moroccan medicine
The cofounders partnered with Moroccan lab Sothema for clinical trials, but because of bureaucracy they had to wait seven years to get the authorization to start.
In 2011 a new health minister took over, gave them the authorization, and Sothema tried the solution on 75 patients suffering different diseases who were not responding anymore to antibiotics.
In 2015, all patients were cured, Remmal said. Sothema must undertake a second trial on a larger set of patients in order to confirm that these results were due to Remmal’s solutions alone, and get marketing authorization. Remmal is hoping to do this in 2017.
Antibiotics are everywhere
While waiting for authorizations, Remmal developed other applications to his research.
In 2012 he funded, with Reda LIPAV (Industrial Laboratory of Agriculture and Veterinary Products), a pilot working on an alternative to antibiotics in animal farming, and has developed an antimicrobial additive for cattle feed.
Despite being forbidden by the law, most animal farmers still feed animals antibiotics. Their real motivation is to hasten growth and this is a key cause of multiresistant bacteria.
Farmers who use antibiotics won’t stop unless they have other cheap options to keep their animals healthy, Remmal said.
The molecule cocktail has been adapted to serve as an alternative to traditional fungicides and pesticides, and a new line of biopesticides was officially launched in 2016 on the Moroccan market and is, like LIPAV, already profitable.
Following Remmal’s win of the Innovation Prize for Africa in May 2015, he has seen growing international interest.
“Our goal is to master the Moroccan context before internationalizing,” explained Remmal.
Reverse innovation, research and entrepreneurship
Remmal said research was worth nothing if it wasn’t not applied.
“It’s essential that the researcher who wants to develop learns to ‘translate’ his science work in business language. He has to become researcher-entrepreneur as soon as possible.”
It’s called ‘reverse innovation’ where the global cycle of innovation flips and emerging countries become an innovation lab for the rest of the world.
For Morocco to develop more innovations, Remmal believes a change of education system is needed.
“[We have to] bridge the gap between the academic and professional world, between theory and field, between research and application, between technique and culture. That’s how we could have students open on the world, innovating, entrepreneurial.”