A renewed interest in ancient pharmaceuticals spurs debate over the extent to which natives should be compensated
Lisa Conte, president of two-year-old Shaman Pharmaceuticals in San Carlos, Calif., needed a way for her company to find new therapeutic agents to compete with massive drug-screening efforts and biotechnology-based drug-discovery initiatives waged by the major pharmaceutical companies. The strategy she came up with was to look for leads from plant-based, non-Western medicines used by indigenous peoples in regions of diverse flora, like the tropics.

Although all the clinical data aren't in yet, Conte's scientists succeeded in finding an antiviral agent derived from a medicinal plant used in South America that acts against respiratory viruses in vivo and in vitro. With a patent pending on the pure compound isolated from the plant, Conte hopes to start clinical trials later this summer. And Conte says she's already discussing licensing arrangements with some larger drug...

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