Samoa to Receive Percentage of Profits From AIDS Drug That Contains Native Plant Substance
The Pacific island nation of Samoa will receive 20% of the profits from any drug developed using Prostratin, a plant compound native to the island that "flushes" out HIV from places where the virus hides to avoid detection by antiretroviral agents, the Financial Times reports. The agreement is thought to be the first time an indigenous community has been offered a share of the proceeds from a medicine that their local "healers" helped discover. The not-for-profit group AIDS ReSearch Alliance has licensed the compound, long used by native healers to treat hepatitis, and the organization expects trials to begin in mice and monkeys with the next few months. If the safety trials produce satisfactory results, the group will license the compound to a pharmaceutical company for drug development. Researchers are especially interested in therapies that can dislodge HIV from hidden reservoirs where, in its latent stage, the virus can "reorganize to mount another attack." If the virus can be "flush[ed]" out, antiretroviral drugs can work against the virus more effectively. There is also evidence that Prostratin can help protect healthy cells from becoming infected.
The scientific community showed "little interest" in the compound, brought to the attention of the NIH in the mid-1990s by breast cancer researcher Paul Cox, until it demonstrated promise as an AIDS medicine. There was some concern over patent rights since it is a naturally occurring substance. However, the AIDS ReSearch Alliance was able to obtain a patent for use of the compound as an AIDS treatment, although it expects a stronger battle when the patent comes up for renewal in 2003. The Samoan village where Cox did his research currently stands to receive 7% of any profits made from an HIV/AIDS treatment containing Prostratin, and the families of the now-deceased indigenous healers who originally discovered the healing properties of the substance will receive 0.4% of all profits (Griffith, Financial Times, 12/13).