The agreement, announced today (Thursday, Sept. 30) in Apia, the capital of Samoa, supports Samoa's assertion of national sovereignty over the gene sequence of Prostratin, a drug extracted from the bark of the mamala tree (Homalanthus nutans). The drug currently is being studied by scientists around the world because of its potential to force the AIDS virus out of hibernation in the body's immune cells and into the line of fire of anti-AIDS drugs now in use.
"Prostratin is Samoa's gift to the world," explained Samoan Minister of Trade Joseph Keil. "We are pleased to accept the University of California as a full partner in the effort to isolate the Prostratin genes."
Despite Prostratin's promise as an anti-AIDS drug, its supply is limited by the fact that the drug has to be extracted from the mamala tree bark and stemwood. Researchers in the laboratory of Jay Keasling, UC Berkeley professor of chemical engineering, plan to clone the genes from the tree that naturally produce Prostratin and insert them into bacteria to make microbial factories for Prostratin. A similar technology is currently being explored to produce the anti-malarial drug artemisinin.
"A microbial source for Prostratin will ensure a plentiful, high-quality supply if it is approved as an anti-AIDS drug," said Keasling, who also is a faculty affiliate with the California Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Research (QB3) and head of the Synthetic Biology Department at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "We consider the actual gene sequences as part of Samoa's sovereignty, and every effort will be made to reflect this fact."