Natural Honduran product helps AIDS victims
Monday, September 8, 1997 Online Edition 70
By WILLIAM MCDONNELL
HIH nursery view near Lago de Yojoa. It takes one year before the first crop can be harvested.
Over a year ago, it was reported that a newly developed natural product made from an uncommon Honduran fern was proven to help many sufferers of auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and vitiligo. Following this report, an AIDS victim living in San Pedro Sula contacted Helechos International, Honduras S.A. de C.V., (HIH) -- the product manufacturer -- and requested to try the product to see whether it would help his condition.
After some pre-testing and an interview with HIH research director Antonio Alcaide, he started on a course of treatment with the concentrated extract of the fern Phlebodium decumanum. Improvement were dramatic. Weight gain was rapid, and within two weeks he felt markedly better.
Other tests were started, mostly on victims in a debilitated state, but before the appearance of Kaposi's sarcoma, pneumonia, and the opportunistic infections that plague advanced AIDS cases. Similar results were obtained in the other 25 cases studied.
The longest test to date has been 8 months, with no sign of relapse.
The product does not cure AIDS. All patients remain HIV positive, indicating that they still have the infection. It does appear that their natural immune system has been strengthened, enabling their body to function in a near normal manner. The mechanism of improvement is not clear at this time, and tests are being planned with the University of Miami to do a more detailed clinical study on a larger number of patients.
It may be premature to declare the Phlebodium decumanum extract an unqualified success. Testing duration is still short, and the number of tests small, but the fact that all have improved markedly, and without any undesirable side effects, is most encouraging. AIDS is possibly the most important infectious disease today, and anything that mitigates the disease would be considered a Godsend.
The Phlebodium decumanum extract, trademarked EXPLY 37, is derived from a rare fern growing near Lake Yojoa that is specially cultivated in closely controlled conditions of temperature, humidity, sunlight, soil moisture, and soil acidity. The fern leaves are difficult to find in nature, and only the leaves have the active ingredients. HIH general manager Jorge Mendoza says it costs about US$250,000 per acre to create the growing conditions necessary. The project is labor intensive. Over 40 people work at Lake Yojoa and produce the ferns on about 10 acres.
The product is an outgrowth of a project initiated by the National Autonomous University of Honduras 20 years ago to identify new natural products of medical value. The Polypodium family was one of two Honduran plant species deemed of special interest. More specifically, the subgenus phlebodium is the fern with the high quantity of active ingredient. A plantation to produce the plant was started, but the project died and the plantation was in ruin eight years ago. HIH bought the assets from the Honduran government a few years ago and began to produce the concentrated product sold in Spain as a prescription drug under the name DIFUR. The product is most commonly sold in capsules, the DIFUR containing about 250 milligrams of active ingredient per capsule. DIFUR can be purchased in Honduran pharmacies without a prescription.
In the last year, a new stage of production has been added, and a syrup is being produced that contains about 1 gram of active ingredient per 5 milliliters, about one teaspoon. This product, called Inmunoviral jarabe (syrup), is not yet in drug stores but can be purchased directly from HIH. This is the product that HIH has been using to treat AIDS, and HIH expects to sell it soon under the new trademark EXPLY 37.
HIH general manager Jorge Mendoza shows the extraction vessel where the active ingredient is first washed from the fern leaves.
Phlebodium cultivation takes place in carefully controlled conditions of light, humidity, moisture, temperature, and soil acidity. Harvesting of a crop can occur after one year of development, and every four months thereafter. After harvest, the sun-dried leaves are bagged and shipped to the HIH plant at El Picacho, near Tegucigalpa.
The leaves are then transferred to an extraction vessel, where the leaves are washed for a considerable period of time with alcohol to extract the active ingredients. Next follow several stages of purification and concentration in order to achieve the quality of product necessary to be biologically effective.
Finally, the purified product is dried and after testing is placed in capsules or made into the syrup that is now being experimentally used in AIDS research. The finished product is attractively packaged for sale. Tests indicate that the product is practically non-toxic, even in doses far greater than those now being used in studies on AIDS patients.
In a recent interview, an AIDS patient said he had been preparing to die when he read an article about the HIH immunoregulator product and its use in such diseases as arthritis. He said he contacted HIH on his own initiative and requested to try the product for his condition. After pre-clinical testing and an interview, HIH agreed.
His improvement was rapid and dramatic. He says his weight gain was about one pound per week -- he was considerably underweight on starting the test. The patient is visibly healthy, leads an active life, and manages his own business on a full time basis. Before starting the HIH product, he slept several hours during the business day because he simply was not strong enough to keep active.
HIH officials said they had no reason to expect such a positive dramatic effect from the product. The results moved them to initiate a study to find out if other AIDS victims could be helped by their Phlebodium product. HIH selected others, normally in a debilitated state, but before opportunistic infections like Kaposi's sarcoma, pneumonia manifested themselves. Results were similarly dramatic. Recently, testing has expanded to include cases of AIDS that are more advanced, and with lower levels of helper T- cells, the cells that the AIDS virus kills. It is too early to comment on results of these tests.
Due to the lack of advanced testing facilities in Honduras, a large clinical trial is being developed by HIH in conjunction with the University of Miami. This test should document thoroughly the type of improvement the HIH product makes on the AIDS patient, and lead to an understanding of the mechanism of improvement. In the Long term, this could very well lead to new methods of managing AIDS patients.
So far, the HIH product has not been used on any patients that have been undergoing the classical U.S. AIDS treatment, which includes AZT, 3TC, and Crixavan and costs about US$1,200 per month. Mendoza says the cost of treatment with his EXPLY 37 product will cost about US$100 per month in Honduras. There is no way to compare the effectiveness of the treatment, but it seems clear that the HIH product has no toxic side effects, while the U.S. cocktail treatment has a number of very serious long-term side effects.
To date, none of the AIDS patients have paid for the products HIH has provided them for the test. The product has been given in return for the test results. Obviously, at some point HIH will have to be paid for their product. It is a serious business with significant expenses.
There are other potential uses for the Phlebodium product. Some positive results have been obtained in limited testing on people with multiple sclerosis. Results seem to be similar to those obtained with beta interferon, but without side effects. Other testing has been done on patients with Alzheimer's disease, but so far without much impact.
It is interesting to note that the HIH product is a beneficiary of the studies being done to enhance biodiversity. It was in seeking to find medicinal properties in rare plants that the benefits of the Phlebodium extract were scientifically quantified. There is a strong message here to protect the environment.
If the HIH product continues to show significant merit in treating AIDS patients, it will mean a lot of growth for HIH, and will be a real help to the Honduran economy. This could develop into one of the most exciting stories of the century, in Honduras and around the world.
For more information about HIH, Helechos International, Honduras, S.A. de C.V. can be contacted at: Apartado Postal 5380,