AL working on ....Explainer: Deforestation jeopardizes discovery of future drugs

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  1. Ethnobiologists explore the world's shrinking tropical forests
  2. Forests – not big pharma – seem to hold the key on antibiotics
  3. Putting the "ant" into antibiotics

With more than 80,000 acres of tropical rainforest being lost everyday could many potential drugs be lost before the plants containing them are even discovered?  ???

And the world is already runninng out of effective antibiotics, according to the World Health Organisation  …..

At the same time, it is already known [clumsy form on my part] that 70,000 plants are sources of effective drugs ….

Drugs used to treat malaria, cancer and glaucoma all originally came from tropical forests. Around 120 prescription drugs sold globally originate from rainforest plants. And 40 percent of anticancer drugs available between 1940 and 2002 were from natural or naturally derived products.

Quinine, which is on the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) essential medicine list and used for treating malaria, comes from the bark of a Cinchona tree, found in the tropical forests of the Andes, South America. And from the Calabar bean, originating in the tropical forests of Africa, comes the drug Physostigmine, which is used to treat glaucoma (a condition where the nerve that connects your eye and brain becomes damaged and can lead to vision loss). Glaucoma is the second biggest cause of blindness across the globe.

However, drug discoveries from plants in this type of environment might become a thing of the past as deforestation continues.

More than 80,000 acres of tropical rainforest and 135 species of plants and animals are lost daily, according to Scientific AmericanTropical forests are key because they cover less than 7 percent of the Earth’s surface yet are home to approximately 50 percent of all land animal and plant species. 

Partly because of deforestation, current extinction rates are 100-1,000 times higher than natural background ??? rates and as many as 15,000 medicinal plants are under threat. This means humanity could potentially lose many future medical drugs contained within these plants.

Predictions vary, but only 1 –15 percent of plant species have been screened for their medicinal potential. One study estimated that 12.5 percent of plant species documented worldwide have medicinal value. This leaves out other potential uses such as a food or material.

The difficult part is finding the drugs from the many plants. For every 10,000 compounds screened for medicinal properties, about 250 make it to clinical trials, according to Milken Institute Review. Of those only one will eventually become an approved drug.

INSERT INTERVIEWS : ethnobotanist, microbiologist, doctor

Biopiracy (is this a separate topic?)

Biopiracy is when pharmaceutical companies use plants with medicinal properties identified by indigenous people’s owners, for profit, without permission from them or compensating. The most famous case of this is the plant Rosy periwinkle, native to Madagascar.

Rosy periwinkle’s original use as a traditional medicine prompted it to be investigated by scientists. The plant was found to contain a chemical called Vincristine.  Vincristine, also on the WHO’s essential medicine list, is used to treat different types of cancer, such as leukemia and Hodgkin’s disease.

Pharmaceutical company, Eli Lilly then patented and marketed the drug Vincristine, made billions and Madagascar never profited from it. However whether this in fact constitutes biopiracy is disputed because locals used Rosy periwinkle for a different medical use. And when Eli Lilly filed the patent Rosy Periwinkle had spread beyond Madagascar to other countries.

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