|WIT's World Ecology Report - Vol. 08, No. 2 - Critical Issues in Health and the Environment (WIT, 1996, 16 pages)|
Edgar J. Asebey, President
Andes Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
Biodiversity prospecting is the search for useful pharmaceutical compounds locked within the world's biological diversity. This approach to discovering new pharmaceuticals is not new; 40% of all modern pharmaceuticals are derived from natural products (i.e., biodiversity). Annual world wide sales of plant-derived pharmaceuticals currently total $20 billion. Furthermore, an impressive 70% of all plants known to have anti-turmor properties which may lead to breakthroughs in treatment of cancer have been found in tropical forests. Yet of an estimated 60,000 species of plants in the Amazon, a mere 470 have been studied chemically and an astonishing 90% have not yet been subjected to even a preliminary analysis.
The search for new natural products has traditionally implied the exploitation of the resources found in a developing country and the subsequent removal of that resource to a developed country for investigation and eventual commercialization. As a result of this "extractive" approach to biodiversity prospecting, very few benefits have been returned to the developing countries which are the source for these natural products.
A new approach recently put forth replaces the traditional "extractive model" for biodiversity prospecting with the "partnership model." Under the "partnership model" no natural products are removed from the country of origin. Instead, the biotechnology and know-how necessary to discover new pharmaceutical entities are transferred to the developing country rich in biodiversity such that more "value-adding" may be performed within the developing world. This is done through a partnership or joint venture between a biotechnology company from the North and collaborating institutions, NGOs, and local indigenous communities in the South.
This talk focuses on the tremendous opportunities which may be created for the developing world when the "partnership model" for biodiversity prospecting is implemented. Some of these advantages include improving human health, supporting a scientific capacity-building, promoting conservation and sustainable development, and more equitably sharing the benefits derived from the South's biodiversity.