Renowned phytochemist Philippe Rasoanaivo, PhD, passed away on July 13, 2016, at the age of 69, after a heart attack. Rasoanaivo dedicated his professional career to bioprospecting the rich plant life of his native Madagascar for new plant-based medicines, particularly for malaria, and co-founded the Association for African Medicinal Plants Standards (AAMPS). At the time of his death, he was the research director at the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research (IMRA) and a professor at the University of Antananarivo (UA) in Antananarivo, Madagascar.
Rasoanaivo was instrumental in building up the natural products research industry in Madagascar and established collaborative connections throughout Africa. After earning his doctorate at UA, he pursued his post-doctoral studies with Norman R. Farnsworth, PhD, at the University of Illinois at Chicago as a Fulbright Scholar. He returned to Madagascar to continue his research on ethnomedicinal plant use for malaria and neurological diseases, working as a researcher at the National Centre for Applied Pharmaceutical Research. Upon joining the faculty at UA, he supervised more than 30 doctoral dissertations and mentored many young researchers.
“Philippe was not only a friend to many of us, but also one of the founding fathers of the [AAMPS],” wrote Thomas Brendler, CEO of Plantaphile (email to M. Blumenthal, August 22, 2016). “He was a major contributor to the African Herbal Pharmacopoeia and other AAMPS publications.”
The International Foundation for Science (IFS) awarded Rasoanaivo a total of four grants in the 1970s and 1980s, first in 1975 for his research on the wound-healing properties of Ilex mitis (Aquifoliaceae). From this work, clinical trials were performed on an extract called Fanaferol, which later became available for clinical use. Following a resurgence in malaria cases in Madagascar, Rasoanaivo switched his focus to traditional malaria remedies. He analyzed remedies used by rural populations, which led him to study alkaloids from Strychnos myrtoides (Loganiaceae) as an adjuvant therapy to chloroquine, an antimalarial drug. The combination therapy was more effective than chloroquine alone. In 2001, IFS awarded Rasoanaivo the sixth Sven Brohult Award. Named after the first president of IFS, the Sven Brohult Award recognizes excellence in research in developing countries, and is awarded every three years.
As the research director at IMRA, Rasoanaivo sought to balance modern techniques with local knowledge to keep treatments affordable and attainable. His approach to bioprospecting native plant remedies promoted economic development in Madagascar, where he also worked to sustain wild populations and biodiversity.
In 2002, Madagascar’s Ministry of Health established the Department of Traditional Medicine and Pharmacopoeias. There, Rasoanaivo worked closely with officials to create a regulatory framework that encouraged the use of traditional remedies while combating the ever-present threat of biopiracy. He also worked with international research and academic centers to collect more than 800 plant specimens over a period of seven years. This cooperative arrangement resulted in improved laboratories and equipment for UA, and the university continues to play a key role in the extraction of compounds from medicinal plants.
Rasoanaivo received numerous awards, grants, and other recognitions for his long and fruitful career. He was an invited professor at institutions in Italy and France, and served as an advisor for a World Health Organization initiative that promoted traditional medicine in Africa. He published more than 100 papers and held seven patents.
He received the Prize of the Malagasy Academy and a research prize awarded by the Ministry of Higher Education in Madagascar, as well as international honors from Cape Town, South Africa, to an entrepreneurship prize in Malaysia. In June 2016, he was awarded the prestigious Olusegun Obasanjo Prize for Scientific Discovery and Technological Innovation, which is bestowed by the African Academy of Sciences every two years to individuals whose scientific discoveries and innovations have helped improve their societies. The award was given in recognition of Rasoanaivo’s work on plant-based treatments for psychiatric and sleep disorders, convulsions, and male sexual dysfunction. When speaking of the award, Rasoanaivo was quoted as saying, “African problems require African solutions.”1
Rasoanaivo is survived by his wife and five daughters.
- Ackbarally N. Plant medicine research makes scientist win science prize. SciDev.net. July 13, 2016. Available at: www.scidev.net/sub-saharan-africa/medicine/news/plant-medicine-scientist-win-science-prize.html. Accessed September 21, 2016.