Inderscience Publishers

Sustainable use of biodiversity by the pharmaceutical industry?

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This paper discusses a key aspect of a sustainable pharmaceutical use of biodiversity: the increased demand of the pharmaceutical industry for biogenetic resources does not result in an increase of the market value of biodiversity. The increasing interest in biogenetic resources by the pharmaceutical industry since the late 1980s has led, among other things, to contracts between large pharmaceutical firms and provider countries of biodiversity and to improved knowledge based on existing ethnobotanic research. The focus of this paper is on the incentives for different research and development strategies by the pharmaceutical industry and their impact on the resulting market value of biodiversity. Large pharmaceutical firms tend to analyse tropical gene resources as a whole, thereby ignoring the existing knowledge of traditional healers about the effectiveness of the species uses. By way of contrast, consulting the ethnobotanic knowledge would lead to an increase in the efficiency of research and development and therefore to an increase in the market value of biodiversity due to this new value-adding information. I will also argue that the regulatory instruments of patent protection are an incentive for the conservation of established research and development strategies. Thus the possibility of patenting prevents an increase of the market value of biodiversity through the creation of pharmaceuticals.

Keywords: biodiversity, biodiversity prospecting, patent system, pharmaceutical industry, sustainable development

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