Vol. 23, No. 2
Chemistry in the Development of Societies, Biodiversity, and Natural
Prof. Antonio Monge-Vega et al.
Modern times have seen globalization of all human endeavors accompanied
by a seamless, sans frontières, diffusion of culture, ideas,
and science across traditional boundaries of territories, cultures,
and societies. However, all societies are not at the same level of development,
and a significant challenge still lies ahead in respecting and harnessing
our differences to ensure peace, justice, and liberty for all.
For example, within the context of he life sciences, a man-made medicinal
agent should receive special, international attention. Any compound
that can help restore lost health or prevent a disease should be made
available to all countries, regardless of the continental location or
the degree of societal development. The only limits that should exist
are those that are organizational, linked to preparation, distribution,
Currently, there are countries that are the discoverers of medicinal
agents, and there are countries that are simply consumers. Likewise,
there are countries whose legislation pertaining to intellectual property
rights is quite sophisticated, while there are others who do not have
this type of legislation at all. Some countries are in search of development
with an overabundance of natural resources and biodiversity, while others
have the potential for scientific and technological exploitation, but
lack such resources. In this wide panorama, the field of chemistry can
play an important role, because medicinal agents are chemical products
that, in many cases, are often modifiedif not entirely prepared
by chemical reactions. Likewise, biodiversity is attributable to chemical
constituents of plants with an array of complex structures, many of
which have not yet succumbed to total, practical syntheses by man. To
lose biodiversity is to lose information of great potential value.
Members of the IUPAC Medicinal
Standing (left to right): Dr. E. Kyburz (Switzerland); Prof. C.R.
Ganellin (England); Prof. C.G. Wermuth (France);
Dr. B.K. Trivedi (U.S.A.)
Seated (left to right): Dr. T.J. Perun (U.S.A.); Dr. N. Koga (Japan);
Prof. A. Monge (Spain)
This article intends to refine and further promote ideas proposed during
earlier projects of the IUPAC Medicinal Chemistry Section (VII.M) [1-3].
Specifically, the authors seek to enhance the transfer of science and
technology associated with drug discovery and development between developed
and developing societies in the most mutually beneficial scenarios possible.
Inverting the Model
Regardless of administrative or political considerations, companies
and centers having high levels of development need to be brought together
with those that lack it by means of joint projects within the broad
field of chemistry and, especially, within the distinct area of biologically
active compounds. Various modes of interaction can be proposed; the
most often used is one wherein samples of materials from developing
countries with biodiversity are extracted and transported for study
in developed societies. We make a case for an inversion of this traditional
model, namely, that of offering technology to the countries with biodiversity
so that they themselves may carry out the necessary developmental work.
Chemical research conducted in the country where samples originate would
enhance that countrys scientific development. Competitive capacity,
research methodology, and infrastructure could be the focus of negotiation
and agreement. Contributions to chemical research on bioactive molecules
that biodiversity-rich, developing countries then may be able to return
can be ascertained on the basis of:
- Biological material, both of animal and vegetable origin, with demonstrated
or potential activity
- Traditional knowledge concerning biological activities, linked to
plants or animals
- Infrastructure deficiencies that cause difficulties for conducting
Salient features of such programs should provide for conservation of
biodiversity, equitable intellectual property rights/duties, and development
of scientific resources/facilities/infrastructure.
Medicinal Chemistry and Biodiversity
Realizing that biodiversity can be lost by man-made cataclysms such
as the construction of large public works or by natural catastrophes
such as fires, volcanoes etc., medicinal chemistry can function as a
great ally by emphasizing the ecobalance between life and its surroundings,
plants and microfauna, and other relationships.
Medicinal chemistry also recognizes the symbiotic interaction between
native communities and cultures as a foundation and wellspring for potential
discoveries. These interrelationships must be nurtured, and their key
elements preserved. Researchers studying natural medicinal agents subscribe
to this rationale.
Their analysis, evaluation, and effective utilization of available
resources can greatly assist in maintaining the elements of biodiversity
while promoting scientific advances. Alternatively, in developing countries
whose economies are based on the exploitation of agricultural and livestock
resources principally geared to the production of cash crops and immediate
products, there is great pressure on their natural space. Consequently,
there is also great pressure toward the potential elimination of their
natural flora. Thus, the relationships between biodiversity, opportunity,
and the structuring of various alliances become especially important
relative to the immediate financial needs of a developing country. In
this light, however, biodiversity and medicinal chemistry must find
a way to collaborate and optimize opportunities based on new alliances
and technology transfer that is not based upon pure economics. Enormous
benefits can accrue in the fields of education, scientific research,
and innovation when an approach other than immediate financial gain
is taken. Some examples can be illustrative. The "uña de gato,"
Uncaria tomentosa, DC, is a liana which has long been used by native
communities of South America. However, the people from the countries
where the plant grows became wary of exporting extracts for medicinal
chemistry research because they thought they might not receive commensurate
benefits. Ultimately, the plant became offered on the Internet in any
quantity anywhere in the world by a few financially opportunistic companies.
The result is that the opportunity for incorporating technology and
technological development for the countries that originally possessed
the plant has been lost. Alternatively, the domestication of plants,
such as the Catharanthus roseus G. Don of great interest in the production
of anticancer alkaloids like vincristine, represents a form of conserving
biodiversity, of training in agricultural techniques of economic interest,
and of creating a local chemical industry.
Medicinal Chemistry and Ownership of Natural Resources
Recognizing the sovereign rights that each country has over its resources
, the aim of this report is to prompt compromises
between developed countries and developing countries in the area of
ownership. New circumstances  have emerged
that suggest reform of the traditional system of patents essential for
commercialization and diffusion of science. Currently, when a native
community produces a unique cloth, it can be copied by the whole world
because it is not legally protected. Alternatively, when an entity in
a developed country copies and registers modifications based on the
designs of a native community, absolutely no one, not even the original
artists, can legally copy them . It could
be argued that the native community has the sole responsibility to register
its work in order to obtain legal protection.
However, such countries are typically unable to do this because of
a lack of knowledge regarding these types of procedures or owing to
a scarcity of the means to achieve such ends. The same situation can
happen with a galenic preparation of a plant that has biological activity
when initially used by a traditional culture.
Establishing ownership may not be simple. It is imperative to begin
by defining the discoverer . In the discovery
of medicinal agents by traditional ways of medicinal chemistry, ownership
can correspond to an individual researcher or to an entire research
team. For plants with therapeutic applications originating from native
communities, the question is much more complicated. Here we are speaking
more of a "chain" of inventors. This process can result in problems
when it comes to the selection of the beneficiaries and the distribution
of the benefits obtained. A matter of equal importance is the fact that
certain cultures hold nature to be sacred and look askance at any attempts
at its legal protection as a prelude to commercialization.
Whether the traditional use of a plant for a given pathology constitutes
public property and prior art is a vexing question. The protection of
knowledge, within the context of plants with biological activity, cannot
be easily accomplished via patents, and it becomes necessary to search
for further avenues. From the standpoint of equity, answers may be found
during the transfer of knowledge. Consider that the number of plants
that are currently used in their original form in therapeutics is quite
limited. In practice, it is the process of biodirected fractionation
of plant extracts that eventually permits us to find compounds that
then typically also undergo further structural modification ultimately
to provide preferred molecules that are more active and less toxic.
Consequently, in this type of scenario a patent covering the initial
plant material may not be adequate. The solution to this scenario of
"plant development" can lead to an impasse precisely for the countries
in search of development, thereby possibly losing by default the possibilities
for the use of their biodiversity.
Economic compensation for historical knowledge should not be lost during
the overall development process because the living materials may have
needed protection and conservation, sometimes throughout centuries,
in order ultimately to afford the current validation of their use. This
effort might be compensated for through a contract, establishing royalties
that could be obtained when commercialization takes place. In line with
our previous discussion, the contract might also specify in advance
of commercialization and as part of a collaborative development venture,
the training of persons and the acquisition of equipment and technologies
as well as the more typical payment for samples. For example, compensation
could be provided to the persons that provide the plant, make the extracts,
and carry out biological assays, in such a way that each one can maintain
his or her own interest and ultimate stake in commercialization. The
country obtains benefits directly through taxation corresponding to
the activities, and more importantly, through the scientific and technological
upgrading of its society. The possibility of regional subsidiary or
local companies playing a more important role in the transference of
research and technology in such collaborative scenarios should also
be seriously considered.
In countries with emerging economies, biodiversity and related activities
constitute "green gold." For this reason, at times, the governments
assume quick, financially driven policies that can sometimes be contrary
to ecorelationships. Thus, both parties must be prepared to adopt longer-range
planning considerations into their decision-making processes. Equity
and equal opportunity must be given to protect the discoveries made
by any society. This principle of equity can ameliorate any misunderstanding
arising out of the actions of medicinal chemists in developed countries
in their relationship with their counterparts in developing countries.
- Medicinal chemistry research on extracts from plants and other living
organisms that leads to the discovery of therapeutic agents, can also
be an important factor toward maintaining biodiversity.
- Relationships between societies that possess important biodiversity
and developed societies that possess advanced technological processes
should be based on the principles of equity. Such relationships should
operate by means of collaborative contracts that acknowledge progression
of scientific research in such a way that the immediate financial
aspects are not considered to be of primary interest but rather only
a legitimate, longer-term consequence of such partnering [8,9].
- Because all of humanity benefits from the discovery of new drugs,
all societies should collaborate in the preservation and evaluation
of the areas of great diversity from which such structures might emerge.
Such collaboration could be carried out through investments made by
pharmaceutical companies to help preserve a particular type of land
(e.g., of great biodiversity, of fragile environment, or where promising
species prosper) and through the promotion of localized searches done
in collaborative settings that can allow for both immediate development
of identified active substances and sustained cultivation of undefined
- Strengthen international relationships on medicinal chemistry research
projects, particularly including countries at different levels of
- Utilize university-company relationships within less-developed countries.
- Strengthen international relationships between scientists and the
authorities responsible for research in various countries.
This report was prepared for publication by:
A. Monge, M. Chorghade, P. W. Erhardt, C.
R. Ganellin, N. Koga, P. Lindberg, T. J. Perun, J. G. Topliss, B. K.
Trivedi, and C. G. Wermuth.
The following persons have collaborated in this work: F. Alcudia González,
I. Aldana, M. Benaim, H. Cerecetto, R. S. Compagnone, P. X. Chiriboga,
A. J. Farré, M. Fernández Braña, F. Ferrándiz
García, E. Ferro, J. Fischer, M. Gattuso, S. Gattuso, S. Guccione,
P. Huenchuñir Gómez, T. Kobayashi, Y. Martín, C.
Ochoa de Ocáriz, B. Sener, S. Vega Noverola, and S. Zacchino.
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**Prof. Antonio Monge-Vega
(Centro de Investigación en Farmacobiología Aplicada,
Universidad de Navarra, 31080, Pamplona, Spain; E-mail: [email protected]),
Chairman of the IUPAC Chemistry and Human Health Division Commission
on Training and Development (VII.M.2) and Member of the Project Teams
on Medicinal Chemistry Curriculum, Guidelines for Natural Product Collaborations,
and Training and Research in Medicinal Chemistry in Developing Countries,
contributed this article in collaboration with the co-authors listed.
This overview represents IUPACs efforts to develop an awareness
of the state of medicinal chemistry in different geographic areas of
the world and a proposal to achieve more effective international cooperation.