Ugly American Pharmaceuticals

Source: – Information Portal of The New Venezuela
Feb 16, 2011 (Translated from Spanish)

Venezuelan tepuyes extracted from fungi are used by major laboratories to produce drugs against cancer Taxol, paclitaxel trade name, registered by the Bristol Myers Squibb, is being produced from fungi extracted from the Canaima National Park, without permission of the indigenous communities that live there, much less, without obtaining any benefit from them sales of the drug.

By: Humberto Márquez

Venezuelan Rain Forest

Caracas, Feb. (IPS) .- Millions of cancer patients in the world can benefit from the drug Taxol (paclitaxel), produced by U.S. laboratories from fungi such as tepuy mountains of Venezuela, without giving back anything to the indigenous communities that inhabit these landscapes since time immemorial.

In another case, researchers at the Federal University of Zurich, following an agreement with the Venezuelan government in 1998, entered earlier this decade in Yanomami communities in the southern end of this South American country to extract medicinal plants of these residents the Amazon as well as their strategies for managing such resources.

“Our countries are very vulnerable to bio-piracy, in what is practically an invasion of global pharmaceutical companies. The overlook international agreements and take advantage of the weak eye on our biodiversity,” said IPS forest researcher Julio Cesar Centeno, of Venezuela’s Universidad de Los Andes. ( Read More )

Still, “insist on identifying and working cases in the Andean and Amazonian regions contributes to progress and the adoption in October, Nagoya Protocol,” said María Elisa Febres IPS, attorney for the environmental NGO Vitalis.

The Protocol adopted in the Japanese city regulates the access to genetic resources, pattern of consultation with the communities concerned and said that the profits of pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies use animals, plants and microorganisms are shared with the countries where these resources are extracted .

Organized Crime

Vitalis documented the case of taxol, trade name, registered by the Bristol Myers Squibb, paclitaxel, an agent indicated for breast cancer, ovarian, lung, and Kaposi’s sarcoma, and possibly useful against psoriasis, polycystic kidney disease, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease.

In 2003, the taxol passed the threshold of a million patients treated and higher average sales reached 1,000 million dollars a year, so he begins to cope with generic competition.

Paclitaxel was obtained first from the Pacific yew tree (Taxus brevifolia), typical of the West Coast. But it is a small tree, sparse, slow growing, and the active principle of the drug is concentrated in the bark of the trunk, so that to obtain the raw material must be irreparable damage to the plant.

Are generally obtained three milligrams per kilogram anticancer agent of bark, so it is necessary to destroy three trees (27 kg of bark) for withdrawal requiring treatment of a patient.

Therefore, two decades ago began a “rage” to obtain first paclitaxel other trees of the genus Taxus, and then mushrooms “could be played more easily and cheaply, using the capabilities of the biotechnology industry,” said Gary Strobel, the American University of Montana.

Strobel visited remote places on four continents and the production of paclitaxel found in organisms present in plants from Australia, Nepal and Venezuela.

In the latter case it is fungus and Seimatoantlerium Stegolerium kukenani tepuiense that grow on plants present at the top of the table mountains Kukenán and Roraima border between Brazil, Guyana and Venezuela. Serratia marcescens bacteria also capable of producing anticancer Oocydina A.

The area where these bodies were taken without permission or any consultation with those involved, is the Canaima National Park, 30,000 square kilometers and seat of the table mountains, ancient mountains with vertical walls and nearly flat summits. Is habitat of indigenous ethnicity pemón, about 30,000 individuals.

Strobel reported Vitalis years ago he tried “without success” to contact authorities in the countries where he was, he collected samples in Venezuela in 1998 and sometime in the top of the table mountains “did not know if I was in Brazil, Guyana and Venezuela “.

Big Pharma in Control

Ferrer recalled that Strobel’s investigations have resulted in the United States, about 50 patents for the University of Montana in partnership with Bristol Myers and laboratories as Cytoclonal Pharmaceutics, and some cover, very generically, “microorganisms from any source” capable of produce taxol.

In the case of the Yanomami, perhaps the oldest town in Latin America, 25,000 years or more in the south of what is now Venezuela and northern Brazil, Centeno recalled that the agreement between the University of Zurich and the Venezuelan government allowed eight Swiss scientists researching medicinal herbs and such indigenous practices.

“But it turns out, according to the Yanomami, to every patient they do not do medicine in the sense that we know in the West, but magic or spiritual rituals that academia does not acknowledge, as it works on substances and procedures that can demonstrate impact and repeat experiment, “said Centeno.

And the anthropologist Daniel de Barandiaran, in his classic “Children of the Moon” showed how the Yanomami shaman “healing” restoring affected the relationship between patient and “híkola” or higher spiritual forces associated with animal or plant genera.

By this means, “the collective wisdom among the Yanomami – something that for decades made American evangelists of the New Tribes – and substances obtained in the wild can be presented in Zurich for example, as a discovery that attract prestige and money beneficiaries in Europe, “said Centeno.

He argued that researchers from universities in Venezuela have advance knowledge surveys of plants and between communities as the Yanomami “with the plausible argument may collect information before it is lost by reduction of habitat or indigenous people.”

However, “we should make an example of consultation, participation and benefit sharing with indigenous communities that inhabit the borders of Venezuela in material conditions of great need,” said Centeno.

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