Turkey is looking to tap into the vast potential of the Anatolian heartland, which is home to countless endemic plants used for centuries to treat different diseases.
The country wants to develop a locally made "national drug," as part of its "domestic and national" initiative, which involves everything from tanks to software to curb imports. The drug is being developed jointly by the Health Ministry and local universities.
Professor Nazım Şekeroğlu, who heads Association of Mediterranean Medical and Aromatic Plants Association, said academics studying medicinal and aromatic plants stepped up efforts after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's recent call for the development of a "national drug."
"The studies will not be confined to academic papers. Soon, with the support of the Health Ministry, we will be able to manufacture our own medicine using our natural resources," he says.
Localizing drug production is among Turkey's goals in its struggle to cut import costs in healthcare and offer a better alternative to existing medications. Experts are working on the classification of plants that can be used in the development of entirely plant-based drugs. Şekeroğlu said Anatolia is rich in terms of endemic plant diversity and knowledge in the field. "Turkey has the potential to be a leading international actor in the field of plant-based medications. It can reap profits up to $20 billion within just four years, from products made of medicinal and aromatic plants. Medicinal plants will be in the spotlight more in the future, not only in drug production but also in the cosmetics sector. With the right steps, Turkey can have a large market share in plant-based drugs," he added.
He said Turkey has been an international example in traditional and alternative medicine, but acknowledged it lagged behind other countries when it comes to medicinal plants.
"Germany, the U.S. and Japan took significant steps in the 1950s in using medicinal and aromatic plants to develop drugs and they are now global leaders in the market. Turkey has more than 12,000 species of medicinal plants and most are endemic. We also have a rich resource of ethnobotanical knowledge or folk medicine compiled from the experience of different culture lived in Anatolia," he pointed out.