Case Studies and Conflicting Interests
Edited by Tania Bubela and E. Richard Gold
Chapter 4: From Traditional Medicines to Modern Drugs
Graham Dutfield If you devise something new and useful, it does not matter if you explain it all by phlogiston theory or have no explanation at all. All that matters is that it works.1 (Lord Justice Jacob) INTRODUCTION Recent decades have seen some intense debates concerning the alleged wholesale misappropriation of traditional knowledge by the pharmaceutical industry. To some people, this industry almost literally preys on indigenous peoples, patenting their knowledge and making billions of dollars without sharing a cent with them. Many from the industry counter that scientific and technological advances make traditional knowledge irrelevant in drug discovery, and bioprospecting a waste of time and money: it may have been important in the past, but that does not make it important today or tomorrow. Both views, that traditional knowledge substantially subsidizes the pharmaceutical industry, and that traditional knowledge has no relevance for present and future drug discovery, are incorrect. The traditional knowledge champions tend to rely too much on their analysis of a small number of high profile cases. As for the detractors, the error may arise from adhering to a conveniently simple but inaccurate assumption that pharmaceutical research and development invariably follows a purely linear unidirectional pathway starting with a single discovery followed 10–15 years later, if at all, by a product. In the paradoxical real world, progress in pharmaceutical research goes backwards as well as forwards and along winding complicated pathways often with no obvious beginning or end. Alternatively, one might suggest the complexity of research...
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