Consumers Union Testimony on Medical Device Safety Before U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce/Health Subcommittee

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Western researchers first learned about the compound in the 1980s, although it had long been used in China to treat malaria. However, it was not until 2004 that the WHO approved its use in the international arena. To a large extent, this delay was due to the skepticism surrounding the drug and for this reason different research groups spent years validating the claims of Chinese healers.

  1. Artemisinin is also effective against other diseases and has shown significant potential for the treatment of cancer and schistosomiasis.
  1. But this miracle drug is already showing signs of weakening: reports from Southeast Asia claim that in some people the malaria parasite has become resistant to artemisinin treatment.
  2. Around the world, researchers, policymakers, pharmaceutical companies, and healers join forces to bring TM into the 21st century.
  1. In a way, it is already being achieved. Nearly a quarter of modern medicines are derived from natural products, many of which were previously used in traditional remedies (See Table 1).

Protection and hacking

One of the main differences between traditional and modern medicine is the legal protection given to knowledge. Historically, healers have shared their knowledge and expertise without restriction, defining ‘open access’ even before the term existed.

Instead, modern medicine is subject to stringent intellectual property protection laws and has a highly developed patent system used to protect knowledge of drugs or medical techniques.

As Western researchers discover the wealth of knowledge stored in traditional medicine systems and the need for new drugs becomes more pressing, many scientists have begun to seek indigenous sources for new drugs, which has been called ‘bioprospecting’ (See Bioprospecting).

In some cases, researchers have applied for patents to protect medicinal compounds that have been used for centuries to treat disease. An example is the patent granted in 1995 to an antifungal derived from Indian lilac, commonly used in traditional Indian remedies. The European Patent Office (EPO) granted a patent to the United States Department of Agriculture and the multinational WR Grace and Company.

Indian lilac is widely used in traditional Indian medicines

The Indian government convinced the EPO to revoke the patent on grounds of prior use, a process that took five years and cost millions of dollars.

Indian lilac is widely used in traditional Indian medicinesThis plundering of freely accessible indigenous resources has been called ‘biopiracy’ and is a striking example of the challenges faced by initiatives to integrate traditional medicine with modern medicine.

Some regions have attempted to address the problem by enacting laws to protect indigenous knowledge. For example, Cusco (Peru) prohibited the exploitation of endemic species for profit, including the patenting of genes and other resources found in trees (See Region of Peru prohibits biopiracy).