Academic journal article Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Hunter-Gatherers Win Profit-Sharing Deal for Obesity Drug. (News)

Academic journal article Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Hunter-Gatherers Win Profit-Sharing Deal for Obesity Drug. (News)

Article excerpt

A groundbreaking agreement has been signed granting the San people (formerly called the Bushmen) a share of profits from a potential obesity-reducing drug extracted from the hoodia cactus. The deal is one of the first to give holders of traditional knowledge a share of royalties from drug sales.

For thousands of years the San, one of the oldest peoples in Southern Africa, have eaten slices of the bitter hoodia to keep them going for long periods without food or drink when they are on hunting trips.

Piet Rooi, a 73 year-old former farm worker, told the South African Mail and Guardian: "I eat the xhoba [hoodia] to stave off hunger and thirst and then I no longer feel hungry or thirsty. I eat it when I and feeling weak and then I feel strong and virile. I eat it when I have a bad stomach or flu and then I feel better."

In the 1960s the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), based in South Africa, isolated the appetite suppressant molecule in the hoodia and patented it. In 1997 the CSIR licensed the rights to the molecule, named P57, to a UK-based company, Phytopharm. After initial tests on the drug looked promising, Phytopharm sold on the rights for US$ 21 million to the pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer.

Shares in Phytopharm and Pfizer rose sharply amid hopes that the drug would revolutionize the US$ 9.5 billion market in slimming aids. There was an international outcry with the companies accused of biopiracy. The chief executive of Phytopharm, Richard Dixey, told the Financial Times at the time that he believed the San "had disappeared."

The San, very much alive and numbering 100 000 in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Angola, then launched a legal battle to get a share of the profits. After years of tough negotiation a benefit-sharing agreement was finally signed on 24 March 2003. Under the terms of the agreement the CSIR will pay the San 8% of all milestone payments it receives from its licensee, Phytopharm plc, as well as 6% of all royalties that the CSIR receives once the drug is commercially available. …

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