The Independent, 17 February 2006

African bio-resources 'exploited by West'

By Andrew Buncombe

Dozens of Western multinationals have made millions of pounds in profits from exploiting African bio-resources taken from some of the poorest nations on earth, with not a penny offered in return.

Pharmaceutical firms are accused of breaching the United Nations convention on biodiversity, which states that nations have sovereignty over their own natural resources, by scouring continents for samples of unique materials, from plants to bacteria.
A ground-breaking report identifies numerous materials, taken from Africa to Western laboratories, which have developed and patented products worth hundreds of millions of pounds - from a trailing plant beloved of gardeners across Europe to a natural cure for impotence and a microbe used in fading designer jeans.
In some cases companies accept that their product is based on a traditional source and yet there is no evidence the companies have compensated countries from which they took them.
"It's a new form of colonial pillaging," said Beth Burrows, of the US-based Edmonds Institute, the environmental group that published the report. "We have identified a number of cases that require a lot of explanation. The problem is that we have a world (where companies) are used to taking whatever they want from wherever and thinking they are doing it for the good of mankind."
Mariam Mayet, of the South Africa-based African Centre for Biodiversity, co-authors of the report, said: "There is a total disregard and disrespect for Africa's resources. Our findings were made after just one month of research. Imagine what we could discover with two years of research."
Among the companies named is the British firm SR Pharma, which it says holds patents for a mycobacterium collected in Uganda during the 1970s and used to develop a treatment for chronic viral infections, including HIV.
SR Pharma's final director Melvyn Davies confirmed his company had neither offered the product or financial compensation to Uganda. He said the drug had not made any profits for the company, although it had raised $20m11.5m) in funding for research.
"If you pick up a natural substance from the street, does that mean it belongs to the country in which you found it? (Our researcher) just happened to be in Uganda," he said. "The issue is not about where the source was but the work that has been done to develop it. Should Uganda share in the profits that will be generated if (it did not invest in the development)?"
Another company mentioned in the report is the German company Bayer. It says that Bayer acquired a strain of bacteria from Lake Ruiru in Kenya, from which it has developed a drug that helps diabetes sufferers.
The patented drug is usually sold under the name of Precose or Glucobay and has generated at least $380m218m) in sales. And yet Kenya has received nothing in return. Bayer spokeswoman Christina Sehnert confirmed the product had been developed from the Kenyan bacteria but said that the drug was a product of biotechnology. She said. "You are not using the original. What has been patented is the bio-tech product."
Also taken from Kenya were microbes discovered in the Rift Valley lakes in 1992 by California-based Genencor International.
The microbes were used in the manufacture of enzymes used to give jeans a faded look. The exploitation of Africa's natural resources in this manner breaches the 1992 International Convention on Biological Diversity which protects the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from the use of genetic resources, according to Arthur Nogueira, a senior official with the convention's secretariat in Canada.

How nations are losing out

East African, February 13, 2006

Biopirates: Bayer earns $379m from diabetes drug

Bacteria harvested from Kenya are being used by a global pharmaceutical company to manufacture a multi-million dollar diabetes drug, although the country is not making a shilling from the entire enterprise, a dossier prepared by a respectable American think-tank says.

Sale of the drug, Glucobay, hit $379 million in the 12 months to December 31, 2004, making it one of the leading brands in the world. Glucobay, scientifically known as acarbose, is sold by the German pharmaceutical giant Bayer.

According to the report Out of Africa: Mysteries of Access and Benefit Sharing - published jointly by the Washington-based Edmonds Institute and the African Centre for Biosafety, in 1995 - five years after Glucobay first hit the European market but one year before it was sold in the lucrative American market, Bayer filed for a patent on a new way to manufacture the drug. The patent was subsequently approved in Europe, America and Australia.

Perusal of the patent application for the new method of manufacturing Glucobay revealed that it involved the use of a bacterium called Actinoplanes SE 50, which is found in water masses around Ruiru, near Nairobi.

"In 2001, in an article in the Journal of Bacteriology, a group of Bayer scientists and German academics confirmed that SE 50 was being used to manufacture acarbose," the report by the Institute says. "Although their paper did not mention Kenya, it did say that 'the oral antidiabetic agent is produced by fermentation of actinomyecete Actinoplanes species strain SE 50.'"
Apart from Kenya, the Edmonds report details extraction of natural resources from sub-Saharan Africa that have been commercialised for medicinal or cosmetic purposes, earning their patent holders hundreds of millions of dollars without compensating the communities from where they were extracted, even though the communities had been using them for centuries.

The companies involved read like a roll-call of the top players in the global medicines and cosmetics market, and include GlaxoSmithKline, Merck Sharp & Dohme, Pfizer and French cosmetic giant Dior. (By DAGI KIMANI)

Excerpt from "Out of Africa: Mysteries of Access and Benefit Sharing", page 11

Diabetes Drug Produced by a Microbe

Many of those who suffer from Type II diabetes can thank a microbe from Kenya's Lake Ruiru for a drug that improves their lives. Type II diabetics frequently take acarbose, a drug better known by its trade names Precose (in the US and Canada) and Glucobay (in Europe and elsewhere). (3)
The drug is an "alpha glucosidase inhibitor", meaning that it works by regulating absorption of glucose into the bloodstream, thereby preventing potentially dangerous spikes of glucose ("blood sugar").
Acarbose is sold by the German pharmaceutical giant, Bayer. How is it made? In 1995, five years after Glucobay was commercialized in Europe and one year before it was released in North America, Bayer filed for patent on a new way to manufacture the product. The patent application, which subsequently issued in Europe, the US, and Australia, (4) reveals that an Actinoplanes sp. bacteria strain called SE 50 had unique genes that enable the biosynthesis of acarbose in fermentors. The strain comes from Kenya's Lake Ruiru.
In 2001, in an article in the Journal of Bacteriology, a group of Bayer scientists and German academics confirmed that SE 50 was being used to manufacture acarbose. (5) In the article, they described manufacture of acarbose and related compounds. Although their paper did not mention Kenya or Africa, it did say that "The oral antidiabetic agent (acarbose) is produced by fermentation of the actinomycete Actinoplanes sp. strain SE50."
SE50 is the same strain that was identified as Kenyan in the patent application filed six years before.
In 2004, Bayer sales of acarbose totaled €278 million (US $379 million, as of 31 Dec 2004). (6) I could find no evidence of a benefit-sharing agreement related to this extremely valuable microbe.
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