Producing natural medicines and herbs in North Carolina can help take up the slack in the state economy caused by losses in tobacco farming and textile manufacturing, says a consortium backed by the GoldenLEAF Foundation.

The Consortium of Natural Medicine and Public Health met for the first time at the Friday Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill earlier this week to consider how the state can tap into the $50 billion natural medicinal products market.

The daylong meeting, first of its kind in the state and one of the first nationally, brought together scientists, state officials, academic leaders and people involved with natural medicinal products.

The consortium was formed two years ago with $200,000 in backing from the GoldenLEAF Long-term Economic Advancement Foundation, which received a large share of the state’s portion of the tobacco settlement. It drew up a set of consensus conclusions regarding a state effort to promote the natural medicine industry, which includes so-called nutraceuticals, natural herbs and herbal extracts, and other plant-based products.

Unlike many such reports, in which many pages flutter in the wind with little effect, this one will be used, the consortium says, to seek grants from the federal government and other sources to promote the natural medicines industry in NC. It also has the backing of the well-heeled GoldenLEAF Foundation. Part of the foundation’s mission is to help tobacco farmers replace income from growing that crop.

Valeria Lee, president of the foundation, told the meeting: “We’re looking to this to take up some of the agricultural and manufacturing slack in the state.”

Lee added, “We have experienced centuries of using medicinal plants and we expect to see continued interest in them. This didn’t just get started.”

Collaboration and education

At a press conference, the consortium outlined the following conclusions:

  • North Carolina needs information about medicinal natural medicines’ safety, efficacy, and counter-indications with other products.
  • The state needs education for health professionals to make them more aware of natural medicines as a resource. Schools of public health at universities should become involved in these efforts.
  • The state also need systematic reporting systems to evaluate natural medicines.

The consortium also pointed out that North Carolina is particularly well suited to grab and keep a head-start in developing a homegrown natural medicine industry.

David Bruton, former NC secretary of health and human services, added that “North Carolina has deep resources in the health industry, agriculture, and academic research.”

Others noted the state has a diverse population that includes segments familiar with natural medicine, including native Americans, African Americans, and Latinos.

NC on the forefront

Bruton, among others, said the state’s variety of habitats for growing plants, which stretches from the mountains across the Piedmont to the coastal plain, is unique and rivaled by only California and Texas.

The state already has several companies involved in making and selling nutraceuticals. They include Winston-Salem-based Pilot Therapeutics Holdings, (OTCBB:PLTT.OB),which is developing medical food products to treat asthma, heart disease, cancer and cystic acne. Pilot recently threatened to move to South Carolina unless North Carolina can match incentives its southern neighbor offered to lure it there.

Kings Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of British Associated Foods, a United Kingdom company with $6.4 billion in annual revenue, located its world headquarters in Winston-Salem in May. It plans to grow high-value specialty crops aimed at medicinal and other uses here. Its parent company is a leader in turning ingredients from plants into food, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics.

Revival Soy, a concentrated soy product is marketed by Physicians Laboratories in Kernersville to help women suffering menopause, among other uses.

Dr. John B. Longenecker, director of UNC’s Institute of Nutrition and chairman of the meeting, said that the consortium will seek additional funding from federal grants and other sources, including the GoldenLEAF Foundation, to promote the goals cited in the meetings consensus conclusions.

Pilot Therapeutics:

Revival Soy: