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British firm looks to Amazon rainforest for new drugs

British firm looks to Amazon rainforest for new drugs

British firm looks to Amazon rainforest for new drugs
November 1, 2006

A British drug discovery company has partnered with a Brazilian firm to look for medicines from Amazonian and Atlantic rainforests according to a news release from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.

E-Therapeutics, a UK-based company that has developed the world’s fastest drug profiling system, announced that it has formed a partnership with Brazilian company Grupo TCI to establish a joint research facility close to start testing compounds from rainforest plants.

Researchers say rainforests hold cures to ailments ranging from parasites to tumors, and believe that someday treatments for cancer and AIDS could be derived from a plant source.

E-Therapeutics is hoping to speed the discovery process using its system that can assess a compound in two weeks, as opposed to two years by conventional processes.

‘This new partnership will enable us to access our rich resource of natural compounds and, through e-Therapeutics novel technology, determine the medical use of these natural compounds,” said Roberto Marinho Filho, President of Grupo TCI. “This will open the current bottlenecks in developing new drugs. We will be using the world’s fastest compound profiling system, so the process of discovery of medicines, which can reduce the two years required currently for these processes to about two weeks.’

“This a fantastic opportunity to investigate Brazil’s colossal biodiversity with our cutting edge technology,” said Dr. Malcolm Young, Pro-Vice-Chancellor at Newcastle University. “There is enormous potential for drug discovery in the rain forests, where there are millions of plant species, many of which produce bioactive chemicals.”


Medicinal powers of plants explored at San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers. Plants have long been used by humans for treating a wide range of ills from childhood leukemia to hangovers. Indeed, many of the pharmaceuticals currently available to Western doctors have a long history of use as herbal remedies including quinine, opium, aspirin, and coca. The use of plants for medicinal purposes is especially prevalent among indigenous peoples — the people of Southeast Asian forests used 6,500 species, while Northwest Amazonian forest dwellers used 1300 species for health purposes. Today the relationship between plants and people is increasingly being explored by pharmacologists in the development of new drugs. Ethnobotanists, the scientists who study these traditional uses of plants, are working with native healers and shamans in identifying prospects for drug development. The yield from these efforts can be quite good — a study in Samoa found that 86% of the plants used by local healers yielded biological activity in humans — and the potential from such collaboration is huge with approximately one half of the anti-cancer drugs developed since the 1960s having been derived from plants.

Shamans and Robots: Bridging the Past and Future of Ethnobotany and Bioprospecting. Since very early on in human history, people have relied on medicinal plants to cure them of their various ills. Ethnobotany is the study of plant lore and agricultural customs of a people and is progressively being explored by pharmacologists for the development of drugs. Given their extensive range of knowledge of medicinal plants, indigenous people have traditionally been the ultimate resource for retrieving this information for purposes of application to modern medicine–the medicinal value of plants is very significant–no more so than today. Tropical rainforests are particularly endowed with plants possessing curative properties. These richly biodiverse environments provide a veritable trove of flora containing compounds of medicinal value, which indigenous people have utilized and benefited from for centuries.

This article used information and quotes from a University of Newcastle upon Tyne news release.

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