strategy

Searching for plants with medical properties

Synonyms:
Investigating indigenous phyto-pharmaceuticals
Context:
The most compelling reason to save plant species is to give us time to learn what we can do about their medical and other properties. Plants are efficient and creative factories of new chemicals; because these chemicals have evolved in order to protect the plant from environmental insult, they often turn out to be of use to humans as well. Several of the most important drugs used in cancer and leukemia therapies today come from rare species of plants found only in small corners of the world. But identifying and testing plant chemicals is a slow and painstaking process. Saving endangered plants provides us with the opportunity to investigate them, and therefore with the chance to feed more people and to conquer more disease.
Implementation:
In 1992, on request of Brunei Darussalam, the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation (CFTC)'s Industrial Development Department provided training for local personnel in the systematic identification and biological screening of medical plants of known value, and also of plants from its huge and little known natural reserves. In the early stages of the project, six plants with potential as pharmaceutical drugs were found.

Shaman Pharmaceuticals Inc. is a traditional pharmaceutical company that focuses on creating ethical pharmaceutical products. It is trying to discover ways to develop antifungal, antiviral, and sedative drugs from plants. It combines the methods of ethnobotany, chemistry, and pharmacology, notably new ways to screen and test drugs. The company has created The Healing Forest Conservancy, a non-profit organization to share the responsibilities of the development of plant biodiversity. It collaborates with local healers to identify plants with medicinal properties. In exchange for the knowledge it received, Shaman paid up to $8,000 (or the equivalent in goods and services) to the healer's community. It also promised long-term benefits if a drug was actually developed from one of the plants concerned. Sharman's researchers were able within four years to isolate 30 compounds that lowered blood sugar levels enough to make them look promising as anti-diabetic drugs. The commercial evaluation of these and other potential drugs has been halted due to the cost of clinical trials required by the USA licencing process.

The pharmaeutical company Merck has a long-standing arrangement with Costa Rica to prospect for drugs in that country's forests.

Claim:
The combination of ethnobotanists and medical personnel show the coming together of the two pieces of a scientific puzzle.
Counter Claim:
It is a popular misconception that rainforests abound with drugs waiting to be discovered. Between 1960 and 1982, America's National Cancer Institute and Department of Agriculture collected 35,000 samples of roots, fruits and bark from 12,000 species of plants. Only three significant products were discovered in them. Data gathered between 1986 and 1996 from South America yielded no marketable drug.
Constrained by:
Protecting medical plants
Subjects:
Botany
Plants
Medicine
Minority, indigenous groups
Investigations
Pharmacy
Type Classification:
E: Emanations of other strategies