"This may be the first time that indigenous people have extended their national sovereignty over a gene sequence" said Cox, director of the Institute for Ethnobotany at the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Hawaii. "It is appropriate, since the discovery of the anti-viral properties of Prostratin was based on traditional Samoan plant medicine."
The National Cancer Institute, which patented Prostratin's use as an anti-HIV drug, requires any commercial developer of Prostratin to first negotiate an equitable benefit-sharing agreement with Samoa.
"I think that UC Berkeley could set a precedent both for biodiversity conservation and genetic research by including indigenous peoples as full partners in royalties for new gene discoveries that result from their ancient medicines," Keasling said.
Keasling and a team of scientists led by Cox traveled to Samoa in early August to meet with leaders in three Samoan villages where the tree grows. They obtained the prior informed consent of the chief's council from each village to assist in the research in return for a share of the Prostratin gene proceeds. Dr. Gaugau Tavana, a Samoan educator from the National Tropical Botanical Garden, presented a Samoan-language PowerPoint presentation on genetic engineering in each village.
A previous royalty agreement on Prostratin was signed in 2001 by the Prime Minister of Samoa and the AIDS ReSearch Alliance, which is sponsoring clinical trials of
Contact: Robert Sanders
University of California - Berkeley