ON MEDICINAL CHEMISTRY
utilization of natural biodiversity in context of search for economically
valuable medicinal biota
Those who live close to nature are often keen observers
of its wonders and many currently used medicines, such as morphine and
quinine, have resulted from preservation and subsequent investigation
of this knowledge. Such knowledge still exists, especially in undisturbed
environments. It is obviously potentially valuable but it is a thorny
question of what value to place on it. Historically, such knowledge
has often been undervalued or uncompensated without any intended ill
will. It is recognized that difficulties can develop based on differing
social and cultural norms among local populations as compared with firms
in developed countries and that more than one local practitioner may
be in possession of analogous knowledge of drugs and other useful products
passed down for generations.
Where plant or other natural materials are collected
for general pharmacological screening, intellectual property rights
are clearly less involved. The materials are most sensibly regarded
as the property of those having title or jurisdiction to the land upon
which they occur subject to the applicable laws of regional, state and
national jurisdiction. It is recognized that friction all too often
exists between local populations and those claiming authority over them.
These problems complicate the issues at hand.
It is a non-trivial question to ask who should benefit
from a country's indigenous biota. Ideally those who possess the biota
and those who wish to bring its benefits to a wider population should
work out equitable and realistic contracts to share in the proceeds
according to the intrinsic value they have contributed. It is simplistic
to suggest that oil and mineral fields provide an adequate precedent
for these resources are not living and cannot multiply. Removal of a
few seeds or cuttings of particularly valuable materials can result
in enormous value to those effecting the removal and reestablishment
at a distant site. This problem is becoming more severe as a consequence
of the rapid development of means of transferring genes. Most peoples
have until recently regarded genes to be mankind's common heritage.
Attempts to patent genetic materials up to and including the human genome
and naturally disease resistant plant varieties have changed this view
by asserting individual proprietary value to these materials. The providers
of genetic material now wish to see their genetic contribution rewarded.
The import of this has not been lost to the possessors of a wide variety
of genetic materials. It is not possible to construct a parallel scenario
in the fields of oil or minerals. In this view bioprospecting is not
a comparable term. Constructive approaches to these problems need to
Discoveries such as taxol which go unchanged to
market are the exception rather than the rule but the problems dealt
with above are easier to put in perspective than in the greater majority
of cases where the initial discovery is not marketable per se but requires
extensive chemical manipulation before a marketable version emerges.
Those expecting large and immediate financial returns from ethnobotanical
discoveries should ponder the reality that it took 30 years from collection
to marketing in the taxol case! Cephalosporin C to cefotaxime is a more
complex example of this. The initial collection of the mold eventually
led to profoundly valuable results, but only after an enormous expenditure
of time, ingenuity, and money. Here the initial finding was much less
valuable in contributory terms when weighed against the necessary contributions
which came later.
Effective means for biopreservation need to be formulated
and implemented. Difficulties arise from land usage pressures and destructive
harvesting. Contributory factors include redundancy of overseeing authorities
in some regions, inadequate enforcement capabilities and outdated legislation.