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Are All Antihypertensive Agents Safe and Effective? More Evidence, For and Against: Brazil Looking for Financial Compensation From Medicines Isolated From Natural Sources


Brazil Looking for Financial Compensation From Medicines Isolated From Natural Sources

The Brazilian government and the inhabitants of the Amazon Basin are seeking compensation for medicines they say global pharmaceutical corporations have isolated from natural sources originally located in the Amazon Basin, and used by people living there, according to a recent report in The New York Times.[17] The action has been prompted by past "mistakes" in which natural substances were taken out of the rainforest and used in the development of blockbusting drugs, including a well-known antihypertensive, without any of the profits returning to Brazil. One such natural substance -- which apparently also has potential in the treatment of hypertension - is the slime from a poisonous tree frog.

The frog, Phyllomedusa bicolor, known locally as the kambô (or giant monkey frog, in English), has already been a subject of interest to researchers outside Brazil for some years. Tribal shamans in the Amazon Basin use the slime, which is secreted through the skin, as a traditional remedy to treat illness, pain, and apparently even laziness. The frog secretions are scraped off the skin, dried, and mixed with saliva to form a paste that is applied to human skin through a burn mark. The crucial ingredients, according to the Times report, are compounds with anesthetic, tranquilizing, and other medicinal properties. Peptides isolated from the frog's slime could provide the basis for treatments for hypertension, strokes, and other illnesses, researchers believe.

Some of the peptides from the frog's skin slime have been patented outside Brazil by Zymogenetics (Seattle, Washington). To date, however, none of the patents has led to successful products, and the company has relinquished the patents to a university research partner. Meanwhile, Brazilian scientists are hoping to investigate the frog and its slime themselves. A group of researchers connected to the Brazilian Environment Ministry is developing Project Kambô, which is focused on the country's need to take the lead in development of its traditional medicines. The governments of Brazil and other nations that have similar resources are calling for changes in international law to allow them to block, or at least share, profits from foreign patients on biological resources found in their own territories.

Looming large in the Brazilian collective memory is the case of the snake venom that was the basis for development of the first ACE inhibitor. The venom from the Brazilian arrowhead viper (Bothrops jararaca/jararacussa), from the tropical habitat of the rainforest, was used by the pharmaceutical company Squibb (now part of Bristol-Myers Squibb, New York, NY) to develop captopril, which was launched onto the market in 1975. The financial success of captopril for Squibb, until a generic version became available, prompted the Brazilian government to look more closely at ways to prevent the country's natural resources from being taken overseas and utilized without any legal or financial agreement.

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