Supercritical fluid technologies developed by chemical engineers at the University of New South Wales will play a vital role in extracting medicinal compounds from a range of native Indonesian herbs and enable new methods of drug delivery.

A memorandum of understanding was signed today between UNSW and PT SOHO Global Health of Indonesia, a leading pharmaceutical company based in Jakarta, which plans to use these technologies to uncover the evidence-based potential of long-used herbal remedies.  

“This is an exciting new project with an important end-goal given the large market and popularity of herbal remedies in countries such as Indonesia,” says Professor Neil Foster from the School of Chemical Engineering at UNSW.

"The technologies we have developed have the potential to uncover the true medicinal value of many plants that have not yet been explored,” he says. “And in the long term, it is planned to use the technologies to re-engineer pharmaceuticals to improve bioavailability and develop less invasive methods of delivery, such as by inhalation.”

Supercritical fluids, which are essentially compressed gases such as carbon dioxide, have already been used to extract flavonoids from hops in the production of beer and to decaffeinate coffee.

“When subjected to certain conditions of pressure and temperature, carbon dioxide doesn't know whether it is a gas or a liquid, and exhibits the properties intermediate to both – the dissolving power of liquids and the penetrating power of gases,” explains Foster.

“In the decaffeination example, the gas like properties enable the carbon dioxide to penetrate the coffee bean, the liquid-like properties enable the CO2 to dissolve the caffeine, and the gas like properties enable the CO2 to diffuse back out of the coffee bean, taking the caffeine with it.”

The first plant under inspection in the new partnership is Curcuma Xanthorrhiza. Known popularly as “Temulawakand belonging to the Ginger family, the herb originated in Indonesia and has been used for centuries in the treatment of arthritis and gastrointestinal complaints. 

SOHO has been conducting extensive research on the Temulawak herb for more than 15 years, entering into numerous research agreements with the Indonesian government and universities to secure land to cultivate the herb, and to help deliver clinically proven natural medicines. 

“SOHO is committed to research and is proud to enter into this relationship with the University of New South Wales,” says President Commissioner Eng Liang Tan.

“We are already making a significant contribution toward improving health solutions and we look forward to working with our partners and the global community to further enhance the safety and efficacy of indigenous and natural medicines.”

Media contact: Myles Gough, UNSW Media Office | 0420 652 825

About PT SOHO Global Health: Established in 1946, PT SOHO is a leading Indonesian pharmaceutical company. It has been the top proponent of the 'seed to patient' concept for the Indonesian herb Temulawak for more than 15 years, with the aim of developing clinically proven health products for use in the local and global markets.