GENET archive


4-Patents: Traditional African knowledge patented by Swiss researchers

----------------------------- GENET-news -----------------------------

TITLE:  African root could be cure for athlete's foot
SOURCE: The Independent (London), by Steve Connor
        sent by GRAIN, BIO-IPR doc server
DATE:   February 21, 2000

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African root could be cure for athlete's foot

[NOTE: The US patent is number 5,929,124 granted on 27 July 1999 to 
two Swiss scientists, Hostettmann and Schaller]

Drug prospectors who explore the natural world for new medicines have 
discovered a potent substance in the roots of an African tree which 
could be used to treat fungal infections such as athlete's foot and 
thrush. Studies have shown that the chemical derived from the tree is 
more powerful than current anti-fungal drugs. Clinical trials are 
expected to begin within the next year on patients suffering from 
serious microbial infections. The discovery, announced at the annual 
meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 
Washington DC, is one of the first to emerge from a renewal of 
scientific interest in the extraction of new medicines from natural 

Kurt Hostettmann, head of the school of pharmacology at the 
University of Lausanne in Switzerland, said an initial safety trial 
on about 20 volunteers with fungal infections of the skin, as well as 
tests on laboratory animals, have demonstrated the drug's potential. 
"We have just got a patent in the United States and an American 
company is developing it. We hope it will come on the market in the 
next couple of years," Professor Hostettmann said.

Under the terms of an international treaty on biodiversity, a small 
percentage of the profits from new drugs extracted from the Third 
World has to be ploughed back into research within the country of 
origin. "We want to give back to the traditional healers the 
information we get from studying the plant," he said.

The emergence of drug-resistance fungal microbes and the difficulty 
of treating internal attacks, particularly in the eye, has made the 
development of new treatments increasingly important.

Six trees belong to the species Swartzia madagascariensis growing in 
Zimbabwe had to be destroyed to produce just 50g of the anti-fungal 
agent but Professor Hostettmann said it should soon be possible to 
synthesise the active ingredients in the laboratory. "We have done 
plenty of in vivo testing on mice and our compound was much more 
active than all existing compounds on the market. As well as Candida 
[thrush], it has been tested against 200 different fungi," he said. 
"We are also testing it for treating fungal infections of the eyes 
because there is almost no drug for treating eye infections. Many 
Aids patients suffer from such eye problems." The scientists believe 
the substance, which is only found in the tree's roots, protects the 
plant from soil fungi which would otherwise rot the underground 
vegetable tissues.

Gordon Cragg, a scientist in the natural products division of 
America's National Cancer Institute, said the destruction of wild 
habitats both on land and in the oceans is rapidly eroding the range 
of natural sources of new drugs. "We tend to forget the destruction 
going on in the marine environment which is a tremendous source of 
interesting chemical entities for drug discovery. The loss of 
biodiversity is a very real threat," Dr Cragg said. 


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