Yali Fu, Ph.D.
Natural products are a leading source of therapeutics — anticancer agents included. For instance, some 60 to 65 percent of all anticancer drugs are derived from natural products. Additionally, sales figures from 2003 show that for all drug sales of more than $1 billion, purely synthetic therapies comprise only 20 percent of the market.
The International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups (ICBGs) program addresses the interdependent issues of drug discovery, biodiversity conservation, and sustainable economic growth. Funding awarded under a program announcement (http://grants2.nih.gov/grants/guide/rfa-files/RFA-TW-04-004.html), which expired in February 2006, is supporting groups that are conducting research on using nature’s diverse resources for drug development. Additionally, this research is focused on maintaining biodiversity and promoting economic growth in countries that have potentially natural-sourced drugs.
Since awards were first made in 1992, ICBGs have conducted research in nine countries in Latin America, Africa, southeast and central Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Some 5,000 species of plants, animals, and fungi have been collected to examine biological activity in 19 different therapeutic areas. Numerous publications in chemistry, biodiversity policy, conservation, and ethnobiology have emerged from the funded investigators, and several plant species new to science and many novel compounds have been discovered.