The Sixth Sven Brohult Award was given to Professor Philippe Rasoanaivo for his work on endemic medicinal and aromatic plants used by traditional healers in Madagascar against a range of diseases. He received the Award at a ceremony held at the National Academy of Sciences, in Washington DC, in November 2001.
Professor Rasoanaivo is a highly dedicated, brilliant, and motivated scientist. He has been instrumental in building up natural product research in Madagascar and the surrounding region, and has established strong collaboration with other groups in Africa. In ten years, Professor Rasoanaivo has put malaria research in Madagascar on the international map.
Professor Rasoanaivo received his first IFS research grant in 1975 to investigate Ilex mitis (Aquifoliaceae), a medicinal plant reputed to have wound-healing properties. After pharmacological evaluations and a successful clinical trial, a phytomedicine named Fanaferol could be produced for clinical use. Professor Rasoanaivo was awarded a second IFS grant for phytochemical studies of alkaloid-bearing plants, mainly species belonging to the Strychnos genus. Meanwhile, malaria re-emerged in Madagascar in the 1980s as the most devastating of the country's tropical diseases, and this led the population back to the large-scale use of herbal remedies. Professor Rasoanaivo learned that rural populations in Madagascar treat malaria with chloroquine, together with a decoction made from various plants. This ethnobotanical finding turned out to be a key factor in the discovery of alkaloids with unique structures that markedly enhance chloroquine action. After successful pre-clinical investigations, he has taken a standardized phytomedicine from Strychnos myrtoides into a clinical trial.
Whereas useful derivatives of the bioactive Strychnos myrtoides alkaloid have now been patented, the parent compound itself turned out to be a useful biochemical tool for understanding drug resistance and its reversal. Furthermore, Professor Rasoanaivo identified a basic bioactive unit that stems from the chemical structures of naturally-occurring and synthetic chemosensitisers. He found that this unit is also present in the structure of chloroquine and is now trying to determine if this is coincidence, or related to chloroquine resistance. Several derivatives of this unit have been synthesized for drug optimisation.
Philippe Rasoanaivo is currently a Professor at the University of Antananarivo and Research Director at the Institut Malgache de Recherches Appliquées, and is also an invited Professor at two universities and one museum. He has authored more than 100 papers, holds 3 patents, has supervised over 30 dissertations and doctoral theses in science or medicine, and has participated in over 60 international conferences as an invited speaker. He is a consultant to various international organizations and collaborates with European and North American laboratories. He has recently been appointed "Grand Officier de l'Ordre National Malagasy".