Raheal Boadi-Yeboah on novel drug therapies from medicinal plants

Raheal Boadi-Yeboah on novel drug therapies from medicinal plants
24 min read

Over the past years, there has been a growing acknowledgement of the significant role of herbal medicine in our health care systems, globally.


Did you know herbal medicine has been endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO)?

Today, we gain more insight into the use of herbal medicine in Ghana, and more, from a young Ghanaian Scientist currently pursuing a Doctorate in Pharmacy (Pharm.D) degree at the University at Buffalo School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences, with a clinical research track component. Meet Raheal Boadi-Yeboah.


Raheal Boadi-Yeboah

Raheal was born and raised in Ghana. She went to Alpha Beta School for her primary and junior high education. She then proceeded to high school at the SOS Hermann Gmeiner International College in Tema for her International Baccalaureate diploma. From there, she pursued a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. During her time there, she undertook some summer research projects in drug analogs at Vanderbilt University to understand how scientists could effectively design novel future drugs.

She also spent part of her college years studying Business Management & Marketing at the Royal Holloway University of London in the UK. After earning her Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry, she devoted a year and a half to continue HIV/AIDS research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine/Hospital.

Raheal is also enrolled in seminary school and currently finishing up a degree in Divinity as part of ministry training.

Levers in Heels’ Interview with Raheal Boadi-Yeboah:

  • Why Pharmacy?

“The Mortar and the pestle represents the symbol for Pharmacy due to its historical use in crushing and grinding medicine. The symbol “Rx” seen on most Pharmacy posts refers to “prescription”. Rx is an abbreviation for the Latin word “recipe”,as in the recipe to prepare the medication. 

Initially, I was torn between pursuing Medicine, Pharmacy or law. However, my latter inspiration to finally pursue Pharmacy stemmed from my increased exposure to the Pharmacy services in Ghana and coaching from my mother and mentors to pursue Pharmacy because they saw my growing interest in healthcare particularly in drugs/medications. At the same time this passion was growing, we had a young lady living with us in Ghana who knew about unique plants and leaves that had therapeutic properties for fever and Malaria, which she used to bring back with her from her many trips. Although she did not have a medical or pharmaceutical background, she somewhat knew about the medicinal and pharmaceutical properties of specific natural plants, which had similar symptomatic relief comparable to western medicine. This exposure and experience with natural medicine, alongside the other experiences I had, helped me make that decision to pursue Pharmacy.”

  • What have been your major achievements thus far in your career?

“In high school, one of my contributions was through the Pan-African Society, where my team organized sponsored walks and simulated African nights markets to support community service projects in Tema. These programs were very successful in fund-raising and set the mark and future for the direction for the Pan-African club.

At Mount Holyoke College, I was awarded with the Marian Groth Laundreth ’46 Scholarship Fund and the Laurel Fellowship, which funded a substantial portion of my college education and also allowed me to embark on a study abroad program in the United Kingdom.

During my pharmacy program, I received the Walgreens Pharmacy Diversity Scholarship which is a merit-based academic scholarship. This honor was awarded based on academic merits, and holistic candidacy. I have also been honored with the Alexander and Galpin Scholarship from the University Presbyterian Church in Buffalo where I have had the privilege to fellowship and serve.

As part of a team of students who launched a new initiative called the African Research Academy for Women, I have set up senior faculty liaisons in Ghana to directly oversee our students and monitor their academic/research progress, while serving as one of the student advisors/mentors to the students.

Mentorship began from my college days when I was selected by honorary invitation to serve as one of the student council member on the National Society of High School Scholars, inspiring leadership and promoting excellence among high school students making transition into college.  This has extended to the Pharmacy school level as well, where I currently serve as a Dean’s student ambassador, mentoring pre-pharmacy students and guiding foreign/transfer prospective students through the transition to Pharmacy school.

Above all, I believe that the real achievement has been the ability to stay focused and driven, not just in school, but with all that my hands have found to do. Also, the impact I have made, and mentorship I have given and still give to students and other people that come my way is humbling.

I am grateful for the opportunity to give and to be a blessing in different areas of my life, one of which is school.”

  • How did you deal with your challenges?

“Sometimes I feel as though I am walking on a path with few people who support and understand the pioneer vision I am trying to set for the future. With this understanding, I now find that I have to stay constantly motivated and encouraged in order to see the vision fulfilled.

At other times, my challenge has been assimilating into new cultures and places. However, I have gradually overcome this by learning to ask questions and educating myself outside of the classroom to help me adapt to my new environment. I read a lot of books, articles and materials on various subjects to be well abreast with current developments. Probably, one of my biggest expenditures is on books, because, truly, knowledge is power. Also with this challenge, I have learned to break out of my comfort zone; if you want to harvest from the deep, you have to be willing to take risks and cast your net into the deep and the only way to go deep is to leave your comfort zone, which is often at the shore.

I have also learned to maintain relationships that challenge, motivate and push me to a great level of excellence regardless of the backgrounds of the people. What I have found helpful is to have accountability partners and mentors who counsel me on academic, spiritual and life issues.

Finally, I have also developed an attitude of ownership and responsibility for my stewardship, actions, decisions and behavior in life. In life, he who is faithful in little is also is faithful in much. That is a scriptural principle that affects every area of life.  Honestly, there is really no set formula and I believe that it is all in the mind. The key is to take control of the mind lest it takes control of you. What has really helped me through all the varied challenges is my faith in God, which is really the core foundation and bedrock of all that I have said.”

  • What would you say has been the most significant phase of your educational career?

“Coming to Buffalo for pharmacy school was a huge transition for me because I was moving far away from where I was most familiar in terms of people, family, fellowship and even weather. I had initially contemplated going to another state for pharmacy school but I realized that in life your assignment has a lot to do with location and timing. Therefore, it took a bold step of faith to come here even when circumstances did not favor this kind of transition.

I could have stayed at Mount Sinai because it was a full time employment as opposed to pharmacy, which costs money but I am convinced about the decision that I made of pursuing this degree and in this school, despite all the challenges that come with it.

The transition is developing my faith and has enabled me to “break out of the box”; it has been—and still is —an interesting experience because of the numerous open doors of opportunities- and even challenges too- that have come my way on all levels – both academic and non-academic. Unlike with college, the expectations from me, my mentors, family members and even professors are higher. The level of academic rigor that I am seeing is something that honestly, I have never experienced in my life especially when it is combined with seminary school. The intensity of UB’s highly-ranked pharmacy program and the level of resources which I need to cope with the program, is huge and honestly overwhelming sometimes.

But this is the way I look at it: this phase is just for a season; and seasons constantly change. I will not be in pharmacy school forever but rather the knowledge, fortitude and character I would have built through this phase will remain with me forever.”

  • What are your goals and plans for the future?

“Academically, my short-term goals are to mentor more pre-pharmacy and other pre-health students, successfully graduate from both Pharmacy and seminary school and potentially practice in Medication Therapy Management (MTM), and/or retail Pharmacy. This will then feed into my long-term goal of exploring natural medicine as novel sources of untapped medical treatments.

I am in the process of building upon the foundations for this long-term project among other things that I am working on currently, which I believe would be sustainable and have long term benefits for the medical and pharmaceutical field.”

  • In developed countries, Pharmacy has changed and continues to do so with innovational advances in technology. In your opinion, how can Ghana keep up with these changes to provide better patient care?

“I think regulation enforcement is the first thing to begin with. The laws and regulations governing pharmacy establishments and drug manufacturing need to be enforced more strictly because of safety concerns for consumers and for efficacy of the drugs. The regulatory parameters must extend to the preparation, storage and sale of drugs and medications. Legitimate licensing, regular auditing and review by governing bodies is also a needed reform. This is because most sellers of local medications are making a lot of therapeutic claims, which cannot be substantiated or verified. This is of concern for the lay consumer because a lot of fake tablets, “special” weight-loss products, magic potions, pills etc pass through the system each year from different countries most of whose active ingredients and side effects cannot be verified and this is a threat to consumer safety, especially the uneducated sect!

The other implementation is a need for better communication between prescribers and pharmacists; this will give less room for the treatment of pharmacy like a market place where you come “tell the pharmacist which medication you think works best” and demand that they sell it to you. Medications are good but can be harmful if taken wrongly or for the wrong indication. For some medications even a slight difference in dosage can have pronounced side effects and some medications may work well in certain patient populations and not so well in others depending on co-morbid conditions, genetics etc. All these recommendations will be better implemented within the context of an overall well-running health system because the prescriptions essentially come from the doctor to the pharmacist, with the exception of over-the-counter treatment for mild pain, cough etc.

When we have first addressed these baseline concerns, as aforementioned, then we can be concerned about complex instrumentation and technologies. Undoubtedly, better analytical techniques, drug verification software and hardware etc will be a huge assistance to the production sect especially if we want to venture large scale production of locally manufactured therapies which will sell on the international market. This is how Ghana’s pharmaceutical mantra will maintain its edge in providing better patient care in the years to come.”

  • Herbal medicine has been, and is still being used to treat all kinds of ailments in Ghana. What are your thoughts on the safety and efficacy of these herbal concoctions? Should they be patronized? How can Herbalists and Pharmacists work together to improve drug development in the country?

“I think there has been some hesitation from modern pharmacy with venturing into herbal medicine primarily because of safety concerns, and yes that is undoubtedly understandable. Now, lets just look at something here: the word “pharmacy” derives from the root word “pharmakon” which is an ancient greek word which paradoxically means drug: a  “cure” or “poison” and the ambivalence within the root word expresses the dichotomy of “good” and “evil” wrestling within the same entity. Another word derived from the root word is “Pharmakos” which means druggist or a ritual in Ancient Greece where someone would become a “sacrificial scapegoat” to die in order to expel evil from a community etc. It is from all these root words that we derive the term “pharmacology” etc. I bring all these historical contexts to make a point: Drugs aren’t necessarily inherently good or bad; It is the way they are prepared and used that confer their beneficence or risk ; so we are in a mixed-bag situation where we want to first identify the good, maximize it and then minimize the bad. This is perhaps the achievement pharmaceutical drugs brag about in the face of herbal medicine. The latter has had less research comparatively and thus cannot seem to rub shoulders with pharmaceutical drugs in terms of established safety and therapeutic profiles.

Nevertheless, I think there is untapped potential we have not yet discovered! The future for novel drug therapies from medicinal plants is unbelievably bright: about one third to one half of pharmaceutical drugs came from plants! And 1 in 5 (20%) US adults reportedly use herbs and supplements. That statistic is at about 65% in Ghana where natural medicine is being heavily explored- albeit unregulated in most cases. Several herbs have been scientifically documented to carry therapeutic benefits including Ginseng for improved energy and cognitive performance, Ginger for nausea, Chamomile as a sedative, Echinacea for the treatment of common cold etc. As recently as the last century, 59% of the drug listing on the US Pharmacopeia were all from plants! That’s more than half of the drug listings! The Chinese use herbs and natural remedies a lot and their therapeutic choices has perhaps played a huge impact on their life expectancy and so forth.

The problem with herbal medicine in Ghana is this: Some herbalists (and some chemists too) are not complying with the demands of Section 16 and 24 of the Ghana Food and Drugs Act. Section 16 clearly states that manufacture of any drug must be carried out under the supervision of a pharmacist or any person approved by the board as having special knowledge of the process. Section 24 requires all sellers, importers, exporters of herbal medicine to register with the board and operate within the confines of safe practice. Other sections of the act forbid false labeling and so forth. What we see now is a lot of “healing” claims for certain herbs but with no verifiable testimony either from the beneficiary or provider. I do not doubt that they can work, I am only asking that we look more closely into where they are coming from, how they are been processed, how they are being administered and how the outcomes are being monitored because you don’t want to be swallowing random pills and potions down your throat into your body. One thing to note with herbs is this: they often contain several chemical constituents- some of which might be harmful actually- so the crude form of the product might have contaminants, which need to be purified. It is also important to define the active ingredient/ingredients or the combination thereof, which is responsible for producing the outcome. I think that is the difficulty we are all facing now with wrapping our heads around this herbal medicine movement.

So then, we beckon the powers that be to release more funding into herbal research in Ghana. We ought to also employ finer analytical techniques, more consistent methodologies and pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic studies in order to better elucidate the therapeutic profile of herbs. Perhaps if we did this, we would be able to better streamline our target and get a better biologic profile of herbs and deduce their therapeutic direction. As to patronage, I would just caution people to be careful where they buy herbal drugs, from whom they buy and for what purposes they are buying them. Some medical conditions require serious monitoring and testing or individualized therapy depending on the stage of the illness. There are a really a lot of factors to consider in therapy.”

  • What advice would you offer to someone considering this career path?

“I would advise them to get experience very early once they define their interests or even if they still haven’t defined their academic niche. I didn’t get a real pharmacy-specific experience until I was in my second year of pharmacy school because I took a different path into pharmacy; I tried to establish a foundation in basic scientific research first and then go into pharmacy itself; This is because pharmacy school is not really the training grounds for a bench-lab researcher per sey. I also recommend volunteering at a hospital or out-patient clinic or speaking to a pharmacist or anyone in the health field to get to know more about the field.

Also, take note that the pharmacy role is expanding. We used to think pharmacy just involves someone in a store pulling medications from a shelf and selling to eager buyers, but pharmacy is no longer restricted to that. That aspect of pharmacy is actually called Community pharmacy and that’s just one side of things. Right now you have Clinical Pharmacists who work with physicians in collaborative therapy management to optimize treatment therapy for patients in the hospital. After the doctor has diagnosed you and you are being treated, your pharmacist is the one following up on the therapy, monitoring drug parameters to ensure the safest levels of the drug is in your blood and that the drug is actually treating your problem and not worsening it. The pharmacist doses your drugs based on your renal function (if needed) and adjusts the doses accordingly. If the medication is not been handled well by your body, it is the pharmacist who makes recommendations for better outcome. The pharmacist is almost like the “last stop” in the medical line: After you see the nurse, doctor etc and you are worked-up and correctly diagnosed, your last stop is at the pharmacy. Some don’t even see the doctor- in some cases- they just go straight to the pharmacy!

We also have Industrial pharmacists who play a big role in clinical trials of new drugs and drug efficacy evaluation. I talked about research etc a lot so that’s one avenue a pharmacist could be as well.


Raheal and a fellow Pharmacy colleague teaching children at University Presbyterian Church Sunday School on poison prevention

There is also Medication Therapy Management (MTM) which is what I did last summer in practice. This involves counseling patients on their medications, addressing concerns such as therapeutic duplicates, missing therapy etc in order to provide the most optimal treatment regimen for patients. There are pharmacists who are focused in specialized areas of care such as HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, Diabetes Management, Cancer therapy or a special population like pediatrics etc.

Compounding pharmacy is a blockbuster field right now. Compounding is a customized preparation of drug that is not otherwise commercially available. This involves mixing drugs into forms that can be administered easily or suitably for the patient. It involves making drugs into suppositories, creams, gels, capsules, lip balm, lollipop etc or even compounding medications for animals. (Veterinary Pharmacy). This is a great field to also explore.

Clearly, there are opportunities to teach in pharmacy as well. Almost 90% of our faculty are Pharmacists themselves and they don’t only teach but they practice at hospitals or clinics so they are up to date with what is new on the clinical arena and not just what is written in a textbook. So I really want to encourage people to think outside the box. There are many more dimensions of the Pharmacy profession; time won’t permit me to go into all of it at once. Even if none of the fields I have said interests you, I challenge you to come up with something in pharmacy. Our world is changing, the only way to stay competitive and stay ahead is to accurately anticipate the needs of the coming generation and begin to lay a platform that can serve their needs. Stay current by reading the news. I do a lot of reading. Anyone who wants to stay abreast with what is happening must learn to read. Read wide but filter through what you read, because there is also a lot of deception, false information and jargon out there.”

“Stay positive, stay encouraged, take wise risks and do not be anxious or fearful for anything. You don’t have to do what I am doing or attend the programs I am attending, you just need to remain motivated and passionate in whatever you are doing. The world’s problems are big and there’s a reason for every discipline and every field whether secular or not. If there is anyone in the audience who is thinking of a career in Pharmacy, Medicine, Biomedical research or a related field, I am available for contact through the African Research Academy for Women.”