Nutrachampion podcast

“Hidden talents”: Malaysia’s biopharma firm sees vast R&D opportunities in over 3,000 local medicinal plants

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

Uncover "hidden talents" in local medicinal plants scene, says Malaysia’s Medika Natura

Related tags Malaysia botanical extracts Obesity Weight management

There are vast R&D opportunities in the botanical health supplements and therapeutics sector across Malaysia, where there is already a pool of over 3,000 known medicinal plants to be tapped on, says the CEO of local biopharma firm Medika Natura.

Abdul Razak Mohd Isa, CEO and co-founder of the 18-year-old firm, is the latest guest on NutraIngredients-Asia’s ​Nutrachampion podcast.

His company, Medika Natura, specialises in studying and using local botanical species in developing proprietary health supplements and therapeutics. 

Abdul Razak Mohd Isa
Abdul Razak Mohd Isa

At present, the company has already developed SKF7™, a standardised bio-extract of Labisia pumila​, also known as Kacip Fatimah – a plant native to Malaysia.

Having undergone preclinical and human clinical studies, the extract has been shown to significantly reduce waist circumference in obese individuals. Findings have been published on Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism.

The company has also used the extract into making a finished health supplement product branded Labeesity, which is currently sold in Malaysia.

The product is pending its debut in South Korea with a local distributor, with enquiries received from various parts of the world since the clinical findings were published.

The plan, however, is not just to develop a supplement product, but to further explore its potential as a therapeutic or medicinal product.

Razak said the company was on track in doing so with a phase III trial in the works, adding that the extract had already received the New Dietary Ingredient (NDI) notification from US FDA​ and determined by the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) panel as a novel food​ safe for target population up to 350mg per day.

Works are also in progress in researching the extract’s health potential for diabetes and cancer.

This is only an example of how Malaysia’s native medicinal plants, with their traditional uses already well-known, being clinically studied and developed into nutraceuticals.

Based on traditional knowledge, Labisia pumila​ is used to firm and tone abdominal muscles in women post-delivery.

With over 3,000 known local medicinal plants,​ the opportunities in developing new nutraceuticals and therapeutics are plenty in Malaysia, said Razak, urging stakeholders, including local authorities to look local for “hidden talents”.

We want the stakeholders to know that there are hidden talents in Malaysia, you don’t have to go far to find opportunities. The opportunities are already in Malaysia,” ​he said.

“For example, Malaysia is identified as one of the biodiversity rich countries in the world, and we have about 3,000 medicinal plants. Who is going to recognise and discover these if it’s not companies like Medika Natura? That’s why I say there are a lot of opportunities.”

A place for “green medicine”

Aside from the readily available local treasures, he said that the current trend of “going green” ​was another reason why the company wanted to focus on this area.

“Furthermore, if you look into the current trends, people are talking about green cars, green building, green energy, everything is green, so we want to bring one more green – green medicine.”

“Green medicine”, he said, refers to ingredients derived from naturals but is as effective as another synthetic drug and safer for long term use. At present, about 40 per cent of pharmaceutical products are already derived from natural and traditional knowledge, he added, citing information from the World Health Organisation. 

The point is to offer consumers and patients more choices and varied solutions in their healthcare journey, and not so much to compete head-on with the synthetic drugs sector, he said.

“It’s not that we want to compete with the synthetic drugs, but what we want is to offer the alternative. That’s what made us stay until today.

“That is what that inspired us to stay on to the course, because we want to see some things change, and then interestingly, things are starting to change,”​ he said.

He was referring to how the local Malaysian authorities have opened new frameworks that allow products to make beyond traditional health claims in recent years.

In April, Malaysia’s National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA)​ introduced the Guidelines on Natural Products with Modern Claim, allowing natural products to make specific health claims based on scientific evidence – including the need for human clinical trial.

“Many would think that since we are working on botanicals, it seems that there are different standards [that we adhere to], and the standards are slightly lower than synthetic [pharmaceuticals], but no [this is not the case],” ​he said, adding that the company followed the drug development pathway in its research process.

The story behind

He was speaking based on his company’s own experience, where its big break came in 2010 – four years after its establishment – after the Northern states’ government approached the company in participating in a state agribiotech program.

“It started back in 2010, when we were appointed by the state government of the Northern states to run a program for the state under the agribiotech.”

It was not by chance that the opportunity came, Razak recalled.

The government delegate team had paid a visit to the Netherlands back then to look for partners specialising in agribiotech but was informed that they need not look further for aid, as there is already a local Malaysian company working in this field.

Known as Orchid Life Sdn Bhd at that time, Razak’s company, established in December 2006, worked on horticulture and floriculture products and services, including tissue culture technology for banana and Java tea or Orthosiphon stamineus.

After joining the state program in 2010, his company engaged professors from several universities, including the late Prof. Dr. Zhari Ismail from the University Sains Malaysia for research on Java tea for anti-cancer.

The late Prof. Zhari also studied three types of plants, including Java tea and Kacip Fatimah, for anti-obesity. Of which, Kacip Fatimah was found to have the biggest potential for anti-obesity.

The pre-clinical study on Kacip Fatimah was completed in 2014 and with that, the company was contacted by the Ministry of Agriculture, asking if they were interested to turn the research into a drug.

“It was an eye-opener and an opportunity of a lifetime, and we said, why not?”

Listen to the podcast to find out more, including the reasons for the company’s insistence in selling its own branded finished products instead of ingredients, the company’s journey in growing Malaysia’s biopharma presence thus far and more.   

Related news

Show more

Related products

show more

Pycnogenol® for a Healthy Summer

Pycnogenol® for a Healthy Summer

Content provided by Horphag Research | 07-Jun-2024 | White Paper

Pycnogenol® French maritime pine bark extract is the ideal ingredient for summer wellness with clinical research showing it helps mitigate allergy symptoms,...

New digestive wellness solution with clinical evidence

New digestive wellness solution with clinical evidence

Content provided by Symrise AG | 31-May-2024 | Product Brochure

16% of adults across the globe are suffering from constipation¹. Functional gastrointestinal disorders are a worldwide issue, impacting the life of 15,2%...

Women's Health For All Life Stages

Women's Health For All Life Stages

Content provided by Gencor | 29-May-2024 | White Paper

SPINS' recent industry trends analysis shows that women's health is finally getting its due after years of being overlooked in favor of men's...

Follow us


View more


Nutra Champions Podcast

Nutra Champions Podcast