Two SA professionals who otherwise work in completely different fields, a medical doctor and a horticulturist, have worked together for over a decade to come up with an answer to help deal with our stressful lives.
Nigel Gericke, the medical doctor, and Deon Hofmeyr, the horticulturist, started working together in 1996. Hofmeyr, then a director of The Office Plant and Lifestyle Nurseries, was looking for opportunities arising from the medicinal use of plants. Gericke had previously been extensively involved in ethnobotanical field research on the indigenous uses of plants in the Namaqualand area.
Three years later the two invested in extensive studies on Sceletium, a plant that had been used for generations by the San communities of Namaqualand for general well-being, including coping with stress and enhancing sleep. Their study found that users were reporting excellent results. Some had been using Sceletium daily for as long as 40 years.
The duo have now found an equity investment partner, Halls Investments, and developed a production protocol for Sceletium. This enabled the production of standardised and characterized extract of Sceletium. Subsequently, the first batch of Zembrin, the clinically studied extract of Sceletium, was manufactured in Germany in 2007.
“Our pharmacological research and clinical studies have been so encouraging that we believe Zembrin has the potential to be developed into a blockbuster botanical medicine for treating serious mental health conditions, and which meets a need for a rapidly-acting, safe, effective, natural medicine,” Gericke says about their product.
Zembrin launched into the SA market in late 2012 as a complimentary medicine to elev8, a tablet used for reducing stress, elevating mood and reducing anxiety and tension.
The two partners tell Finweek that they have signed exclusive distribution agreements with PL Thomas Inc in New Jersey for the northern parts of the USA, with Sydney-based Pathway International (Pty) Ltd for the Australian market and MembraHealth Marketing Sdn Bhd based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for the Singaporean, Indonesian and Malaysian markets.
Ten similar agreements elsewhere around the globe are pending and Hofmeyr expects more positive outcomes.
Earlier this year, at the annual Natural Products Expo West held in Anaheim, California, Zembrin was judged to be the “most sustainable ingredient” and hailed as one of the leading ingredients pioneering the foundation for a new generation of natural products. Gericke says they will always be indebted to the San community in Namaqualand for their success. They have a benefit sharing agreement with the South African San Council, which receives the equivalent of 6% of their turnover from Zembrin sales.
The global market is ready for a product of this nature. “The global market is where we should be, and we will,” says Hofmeyr.
A survey released last year by ComPsych, a provider of employee assistance programmes (EAPs), revealed that nearly half of all office workers suffer from moderate to severe stress, while 66% of employees have difficulty focusing on tasks at work because of stress.
The World Health Organisation has dubbed work-related stress as the “health epidemic of the 21st century”, with the associated cost to American businesses reaching $300bn annually, according to a 2007 nationwide poll by the American Psychological Association.