1311 Merck’s appetite for African microbes


Today’s world is suffering from a lack of new antibiotics to fight existing infections and especially to cope with multiple bacterial resistance. This is significant as up to 70% of illnesses have a bacterial origin, sometimes resulting in a mixed viral infection. We also need new antibiotics for the treatment of emerging infectious diseases, and to improve existing remedies because many bacteria develop resistance to the antibiotics currently used. This is why research on new antimicrobial families is essential. The problem now is that bacterial resistance to existing antibiotics is increasing at a time when efforts to develop antibiotics have dried up. In general, the pharmaceutical industry has detached itself from the search for new antibiotics in favour of research into drugs or pseudo- drugs that need to be taken regularly. This withdrawal by the pharmaceutical industry could eventually lead to real public health problems.


Merck, the giant pharmaceutical firm and fifth biggest in the world, with its Spanish subsidiary Fundación Medina has filed a patent application for two drugs. The first, Kibdelomycin, is a broad spectrum antibiotic with the antibacterial agent, Gram-positive, and a potent inhibitor taken from DNA. It was discovered in a soil bacterium (Kiddelosporangium sp.) found in a forest in the Central African Republic. The second, Platensimycin, comes from South African soil. This antibiotic was isolated from a strain of Sreptomyces platenses and has proved effective against Gram-positive bacteria and against the multi-resistant Staphylococcus aureus which is responsible for serious respiratory infections acquired in hospitals.


Even if this seems like good news, the fact is that Merck does not comply with the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and its Nagoya Protocol on access, profit sharing and the rights of the country and people that provide the genetic resources from which new drugs are created. Two of the requirements are prior consent and mutual agreement by the people of the country for the use of their biodiversity. In the patent application from Merck for these two new antibiotics there is no information indicating that the conditions established by the CBD on access to these samples or distribution of profits have been fulfilled.


This shows once again how pharmaceutical companies and others are completely unaware of the provisions of the Convention on Biological Diversity. This instance also reveals the shortcomings and deficiencies of national, regional and international current regulations as regards biodiversity. These must be resolved urgently. But even more regrettable is the absence of a mechanism that would force companies to take account of UN Conventions.


This misappropriation of biodiversity resources and indigenous traditional knowledge is called "bio-piracy". While Merck uses unauthorized biological resources and while patents from these findings for will bring substantial profits, the people who have cared for this biodiversity for centuries will receive nothing. However, according to the CBD, Merck is obliged to share the profits from patents between the patent owner and the community from which the resources come. Once again it is the companies who win the economic battle and collect profits that should be shared.


Source: Third World Network




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