Creating A New Vision

Our vision for natural products embraces the concept that natural products will be increasingly important as fossil-based resources are depleted while the global population increases. Our vision must therefore involve the creation of new paradigms for the conduct of the natural product sciences on a global basis, including new balances, new alliances and new values. We will begin with the creation of new balances.

Humankind probably cannot survive another century as destructive of the Earth's resources as the 20*h century. We left that century with one-eighth of all plant species threatened, 50% of bird species likely to become extinct in the next 50 years, and oil resources scheduled to last about 70 years. Before we can begin to address restoration of a balance we must see this as our destruction and our restoration. Simply put, we are not separate from Earth, but an integral part of all that is nature [6],

We must be very mindful of the balance between the conservation of the existing rain forests and the destruction of these fragile and deeply interwoven ecosystems and their deforestation for crop and grazing lands. We do this for ecological, climactic and geological reasons and for reasons of maintaining bio-, and therefore chemo-, diversity. As new medicinal plants are introduced into commerce, we must be very clear that our plans for their production to fill the market niche are sustainable and that wild-crafting does not move medicinal plant populations out of balance. We must strive for a balance between intellectual property rights and the burgeoning technology of drug discovery. A balance between those who are the holders of the biodiversity and the indigenous knowledge and those who would potentiate (create value) in that biodiversity for the health and economic benefit of all parties.

International development efforts for new medicinal and biological agents will require the creation of numerous new alliances and the substantial strengthening of those already in place. These alliances must be both local and global in their structure and involve individuals who can set aside their ego for the greater good of the whole program. There are several examples of such well-organized and funded collaborations at this time [6], including programs which, rather than being solely academic in nature, have a strong industrial partner. Many countries around the world would do well to examine the structures of these programs as a potential model for collaborative investment to potentiate the development of local medicinal plants and natural products. The need for in-country capacity necessitates that such alliances be part of the backbone of a sound health care program. In order to accomplish these goals, though, we must create value; value in places, in people and in plants.

The poignant question asked by the American naturalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson still rings true today, "What is a weed?" A plant whose virtues have yet to be discovered. One of our prime responsibilities as natural product scientists to the future generations is to demonstrate the value of biodiversity through new discoveries of plant-derived medicinal agents and raise awareness of the importance of plants in our everyday lives for health purposes. Such efforts will require the establishment of solid linkages which unite the interests of environmental preservation, medicinal plant research and drug discovery, and the development of the agro-industrial enterprise. As an example, countries should be examining their imports of finished pharmaceuticals and natural products (essential oils, flavor and fragrance materials) with a view to developing or expanding the local capacity to produce these materials. Is it possible that such programs could lead to a reduction in imports and increased exports?

There are very interesting programs underway to examine the potential for various crops, including corn, rice, potato, taro, etc to be the mode of production and distribution of important vaccines and medicinal agents [II]. While there are important ecological concerns regarding these genetically modified crops, they may be the only economically effective way to bring preventative health care to hundreds of millions of people. In addition, local production of such health care agents will aid in developing the science and the technology of the country, as well improving the economic base.

Creating value in places also means the location of where the work will be conducted. It will be necessary to invest in the development of academic centers of research excellence. One approach is to identify and support key laboratories in certain areas of science or in specific physical locations. Another strategy is to choose multiple groups in various universities for investment, while an alternative is to foster collaborative relationships with academic institutions in developed countries or with pharmaceutical industry on highly targeted areas reflecting a local health care need.

Scientists with appropriate background and training to the highest levels necessary for both supervising and doing the experimental work in research and development programs are also required. Thus governmental support for more PhD and postdoctoral programs, both in country and abroad, which can provide the manpower necessary are needed. In addition, for those who received their PhD several years ago, specialised training programs may be necessary to establish specific areas of expertise in chemistry, instrumentation or bioassay technology.

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