4 November 2002
BIOTECH DRUG CAUSING DEADLY ANEMIA/BIO-PROSPECTORS/INDIGENOUS ASSEMBLY CONDEMNS TRADE PACT
"Biotech products need to be handled with great care ... and we need to be looking for unexpected adverse effects." - French physician Jerome Rossert (item 2)
"Leonidas Iza, president of the powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), warned that implementing the FTAA [the Free Trade Area of the Americas] could mean the privatization of such basic services as water and the invasion of genetically modified agricultural products." (item 1)
"Fortune-hunting scientists are scouring vast tracts of tropical rainforests for plants to produce new antibiotics and other drugs that could be worth billions of dollars. ...Like the gold rush of 150 years ago that lured thousands of hopeful treasure seekers, "bio-prospectors" and global drug giants have staked claims to areas of forest... access to rainforests is the must-have asset for bioprospectors, especially those who want to raise money from stock exchange listings." (item 3)
' "We indigenous peoples do not permit patents or other private property rights over life and traditional knowledge, because for us they are of a collective nature, inalienable and inter- generational, and they are linked to the notion of our ancestral territories."
"As such, we indigenous peoples have decided not to compete in the system of the globalized market," stated Felipe Quishpe, of Bolivia. "We create and maintain terraced farmland, we farm without chemicals, we enrich the soils by using complementary crops. With this approach we both maintain genetic diversity and strengthen the agricultural system against plagues and the imponderables of nature"
U.S. sociologist James Petras, who attended the Assembly as an observer, told IPS he is convinced that his country is promoting the FTAA because there are still economic areas in Latin America that cannot completely control, such as the petroleum industry in Venezuela and other economic sectors in Ecuador and Brazil. "The big illusion of the FTAA for Latin America is to achieve access to a market of 800 million people, but that dream is based on the United States favoring true free trade, which it does not," said the sociologist.' (item 1)
1. INDIGENOUS ASSEMBLY CONDEMNS TRADE PACT
2. Biotech drug causing deadly anemia
3. Bio-prospectors seek treasure in Australia forests
1. TRADE-AMERICAS: INDIGENOUS ASSEMBLY CONDEMNS TRADE PACT
By Kintto Lucas
Inter Press Service November 1, 2002
QUITO, Nov.1: The Continental Assembly of Peoples of the Americas, meeting Friday in the Ecuadorian capital, exhorted the region's governments to reject the Free Trade Area of the Americas, saying it will harm their cultures and the environment and deplete natural resources. In the final declaration of the indigenous meet, titled "Mandate from the Peoples", the delegates set new dates for "cultural-territorial resistance and affirmation" to fight the hemisphere-wide FTAA. The indigenous activists see the economic approach of the FTAA as the same that "was implemented in 1492, when the pillaging of our wealth and of our natural resources began," said Evo Morales, who was a presidential candidate in Bolivia's elections in June.
"What they are seeking now is simply to deepen that model, which is based on free imports and is a policy aimed at concentrating wealth in the hands of a few," the Indian leader told IPS. The Continental Assembly of Peoples was held in Quito in parallel to the seventh FTAA ministerial-level conference, which drew foreign affairs and trade ministers from the 34 countries that are involved in creating the free trade zone -- all nations of North and South America and the Caribbean, except Cuba. The preparatory meetings that took place this week were surrounded by massive street protests, with violent police crackdowns dispersing some of the demonstrations.
Morales, who took part in the Assembly of Peoples, said the promoters of the FTAA are not interested in environmental conservation, in contrast to the native communities of the Americas, whose cultures are based on living in harmony with nature. "The economy should be subordinate to the preservation of the planet," a fundamental value of "the indigenous movements, whether Quechua, Aymara, Guaran , Aztec, Quiche or Mapuche, because we live in a direct relationship with Mother Earth," he said. "In the world of the indigenous peoples, we seek to produce for the common good, in the context of reciprocity and solidarity, something the FTAA completely cancels out," Morales added. It is proposals like those of the FTAA that brought crisis to Latin America and have triggered the "resistance of Indians and of social movements," and are fomenting its expansion, said the former presidential candidate, who lost the Bolivian elections by just 1.5 percent of the vote. Despite their rejection of FTAA, the indigenous communities maintain open dialogue aimed at integrating the countries of Latin America, as has always been proposed by the region's ethnic and social movements, he said. The final document of the Assembly, signed by indigenous, environmental, peasant and trade union organizations from more than 20 countries, asks the governments of the Americas what "integration" they are talking about, if their economic policies "are disintegrating and eliminating" the original communities of the area encompassed by the FTAA. "What integration are you proposing if the basis of your approach is competition, the desire to accumulate and obtain profit at any price, inequality, disrespect for peoples and cultures, and the aim to unite us all in the market and in consumerism," said the indigenous delegates gathered in Quito. "What integration are you proclaiming if the first and fundamental interrelation of every human being is with Mother Earth and you fail to realize it," states the declaration. Leonidas Iza, president of the powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), warned that implementing the FTAA could mean the privatization of such basic services as water and the invasion of genetically modified agricultural products. "Inequality will bring with it the destruction of the ancestral cultures and the ethical values that continue to subsist, and will even end up dismantling the nation states and turn them into incorporated colonies," stated Iza. The indigenous leaders who participated in Friday's Assembly reaffirmed the "autonomy and free territorial, cultural, political and governmental determination" of their peoples, vindicating their "territories and the collective right to biodiversity."
"We indigenous peoples do not permit patents or other private property rights over life and traditional knowledge, because for us they are of a collective nature, inalienable and inter- generational, and they are linked to the notion of our ancestral territories."
"As such, we indigenous peoples have decided not to compete in the system of the globalized market," stated Felipe Quishpe, of Bolivia. "We create and maintain terraced farmland, we farm without chemicals, we enrich the soils by using complementary crops. With this approach we both maintain genetic diversity and strengthen the agricultural system against plagues and the imponderables of nature," he said. Quishpe added that many indigenous communities implement "renewable, non- polluting forms of generating energy, and are exploring other renewable energy technologies, like bio-gas and solar energy."
The final declaration of the Assembly of Peoples concludes with the proposal for a referendum across the Americas so that citizens can express whether or not they support the creation of the Canada-to-Tierra del Fuego free trade zone. U.S. sociologist James Petras, who attended the Assembly as an observer, told IPS he is convinced that his country is promoting the FTAA because there are still economic areas in Latin America that cannot completely control, such as the petroleum industry in Venezuela and other economic sectors in Ecuador and Brazil. "The big illusion of the FTAA for Latin America is to achieve access to a market of 800 million people, but that dream is based on the United States favoring true free trade, which it does not," said the sociologist.
2. Biotech drug causing deadly anemia
By MICHAEL SMITH
United Press International November 2, 2002
PHILADEPHIA, Pa., Nov. 2 (UPI): A genetically engineered drug hailed as a dramatic advance in the treatment of kidney disease has been found to cause a sudden upsurge in cases of potentially life-threatening anemia among kidney patients around the world, researchers reported Saturday.
Researchers said they are puzzled as to why human recombinant erythropoietin, which has been regarded as safe since it was introduced in the late 1980s, now seems to be causing cases of pure red cell aphasia, or PRCA. Patients with the condition suffer severe anemia and must be given regular blood transfusions, said kidney specialist Richard Glassock, who chaired a special session on the problem at the annual meeting of the American Society of Nephrology.
PRCA usually occurs in a "vanishingly small" number of people, Glassock told United Press International. It has been linked to disease of the thymus gland, some viruses, and auto-immune diseases, but not to kidney disease or the drugs used to treat it. Since 1998, however, more than 150 cases have appeared around the world among kidney patients treated with Eprex, a version of human recombinant erythropoietin that is not sold in the United States. This represents a hundredfold increase over the usual rate of PRCA, Glassock said, adding there have been scattered cases linked to other brands of the drug. Almost all of the cases occurred in patients who injected the drug under the skin, rather than into a vein, said physician John Knight, director of safety assessment for Johnson & Johnson of New Brunswick, N.J., the company that makes Eprex. Knight told session attendees the company now is urging doctors and patients to use only intravenous injections and doctors should stop using the drug if they suspect PRCA. Exactly why Eprex injected under the skin should cause PRCA still is unknown, Glassock said. "The nuances of this mystery go well beyond the data that we have now."
German medical professor Eberhard Ritz, who co-chaired Saturday's special session, said he is convinced the answer lies in the way Eprex is formulated, not in the drug itself. "What is different must be the way the immune system reacts to this compound," he told UPI, because other versions of the drug -- with different formulations -- do not seem to have the same effect. French physician Jerome Rossert, one of the first to report drug-related PRCA cases in France, said the link to the method of injection is puzzling.
Although the drug was being injected under the skin before 1998, there were only a few cases of PRCA. He told attendees that Germany and France have about the same number of kidney patients who inject the drug under the skin, but France has had 33 cases of PRCA and Germany only three. Rossert said the sudden appearance of PRCA is alarming, but human recombinant erythropoietin "remains a very safe drug. Biotech products need to be handled with great care ... and we need to be looking for unexpected adverse effects."
Although PRCA is debilitating and potentially deadly, Glassock said, data presented at this meeting show a kidney transplant completely cures the condition, usually within a matter of weeks.
3. Bio-prospectors seek treasure in Australia forests
By Michael Byrnes, Reuters
SYDNEY, Nov 3 (Reuters) - It's Australia's new gold rush. Fortune-hunting scientists are scouring vast tracts of tropical rainforests for plants to produce new antibiotics and other drugs that could be worth billions of dollars. "Australia remains the last continent to be discovered in biodiversity," says Selwyn Snell, chief executive officer of Australian science group BioProspect Ltd. "It has so many unique and even unregistered and unnamed biological species that it's just remarkable. And we're out there hunting for them." Like the gold rush of 150 years ago that lured thousands of hopeful treasure seekers, "bio-prospectors" and global drug giants have staked claims to areas of forest hoping to tap jungles that harbour diverse and unique plantlife. The jungles beckon with the promise of a world-beating find worth a fortune -- a cure for cancer, HIV or Alzheimers, or a chemically unique antibiotic to knock out super bugs like Golden Staph which haunt hospitals around the world. The yield so far from Australia's northern rainforests, mainly in Queensland and Western Australia, is several new compounds for antibiotics, new pesticides which are close to commercial production and a pill that could prevent prostate cancer.
Scientists caution that it takes 15 years and a huge investment to bring a new pharmaceutical to market, and only one in 1,000 discoveries make it. Agri-chemicals and dietary products are quicker to market, and even they offer pay-dirt worth hundreds of millions. Bio-prospectors range from scientists with licence claims, through to large numbers of "illegal" hopefuls.
VENTURE CAPITAL Big groups in the hunt include London-based AstraZeneca, one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies, and Melbourne-based Amrad Corp Ltd through its Cerylid Biosciences unit, with links to international giants including Franco-German Aventis and Glaxo SmithKline. The listed BioProspect has recently been joined in the hunt by smaller compatriot EcoBiotics Ltd, which aims to float on the Australian Stock Exchange in 2004. "In the past it was well nigh impossible to get venture capital for biotech and drug discovery in Australia," said Stephen Trowell, chief executive of Entocosm Pty Ltd, a spin-off from the government-backed Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). "That's starting to change." Like prospecting claims, access to rainforests is the must-have asset for bioprospectors, especially those who want to raise money from stock exchange listings.
Cairns-based EcoBiotics, now raising A$3 million (US$1.7 million) in working capital, has exclusive access to large tracts of Queensland state rainforest through the Australian Rainforest Foundation and private holders. It is also negotiating for access to Queensland rainforest under state control and has exclusive access to 170,000 hectares (425,000 acres) of some of the last rainforest in the Solomon Islands to Australia's north. "(But) there's a lot out there without licences," says BioProspect's Snell.
"They're going to come to a foul end. If you don't have a licence showing ownership of a compound, you're in deep doo-doo." Multinational companies will not deal with unlicensed groups. BioProspect already holds agreements with the Queensland government for access to plants, soil, insects, marine organisms and animals in state-owned areas, as well as a collection licence for Western Australia. This does not give it a monopoly over particular plants, but is the first step to eventual patents on chemical discoveries in plants. The plants found to yield valuable chemicals are the most closely guarded secrets of Australia's bioprospectors and are the lucrative intellectual property of the forest hunters.
NEW PRODUCTS "We have a very unique rainforest (with) the largest percentage of ancient plant families," EcoBiotics managing director Victoria Gordon says. "The Queensland tropical rainforest is unique because of the very old geology of the area (producing) a mozaic of forest types. We have 15 different forest types here (while) in general the Amazon Basin has about five different forest types." Australian rainforests also have more tree species than in the whole of North America and Europe, she says. The fight for survival by large numbers of organisms produced novel chemicals and survival solutions, making Australian forests among the world's most productive. Australia is also the only country in the world which combines large rainforests with a developed economy, an established legal system and high level medical and general scientific research. Targeting plants which it believes are likely to produce payoffs from gaps in the pharmaceutical and agrochemical markets, EcoBiotics says it is applying for patents for four new antibiotic chemical compounds, and is working on others to combat intestinal parasites and bacteria. "We're now in discussions with the large pharmaceutical and agri-chemical companies for licensing deals," says Gordon. BioProspect has a major natural insecticide close to commercial production, has just patented a product for termite control and is close to launching dietary and health products in the United States, says Snell. One is a food supplement, from Australian materials, which inhibits cell activity in areas of hte body prone to cancer. "(This) is looking good (for) prostate cancer," he says. ($1 - A$1.82)