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Stabroek News

Jamaican cancer drug found - Scientific findings surround endemic plants
published: Tuesday | December 12, 2006

Ross Sheil, Staff Reporter


Jamaican biochemist Dr. Henry Lowe (left) and research partner Dr. Joseph Bryant of the University of Maryland Institute of Human Virology (IHV), examine transgenic mice used to test the effect of two Jamaican plants on cancer tumours. - Contributed

Two scientists will present research findings today showing that a pair of endemic Jamaican plants can help cure five cancers, potentially giving the country a lucrative share of the global chemotherapy drug market.

Jamaican biochemist Dr. Henry Lowe discovered the plants, while his American research partner Joseph Bryant, laboratory animal veterinarian at the University of Maryland Institute of Human Virology (IHV), conducted the tests on cancer tumour cells in test tubes and then transgenic mice - whose DNA has been modified to incorporate human genes.

An alternative

What Dr. Lowe told The Gleaner could be a "new Jamaican brand" could begin commercial production within three to five years as an alternative to existing cancer drug Taxol, but Dr. Bryant said one to three years. Taxol had worldwide sales of US$764 million in 2005 before generic alternatives became available this year.

"This has huge financial implications both for the country in terms of tax revenues and foreign exchange earnings, and for the scientific community," said Dr. Lowe. "We also look to form an institute (from the profits) as well as fund training and to research the further exploitation of Jamaica's plants."

They said an international patent was submitted last week but that they could not reveal the names of the plants for reasons of industrial secrecy but would do so once they identify the compounds involved and understand how they work.

The plants were tested in a semi-purified state individually and as a 1:4 combination with Taxol and reportedly killed cancer cells at the same rate as the control test of pure Taxol. Taxol can be toxic to some patients while cancer cells can develop resistance. However it has been determined that their drug is non-toxic while levels of resistance will take further study.

Their presentation will take place this morning at Eden Gardens Wellness Centre; the business that Dr. Lowe founded and where the offices of the Environmental Health Foundation (EHJ), which he chairs, are located.

He said he would be encouraging local investors and government to become involved in a company to be established for trial of the drug and to develop and market the drug which would ultimately require partnership with an international pharmaceutical company.

He stressed that the discovery should be left to the same fate as periwinkle which was used traditionally to treat diabetes in Jamaica but was then exploited by foreign pharmaceutical companies to treat leukaemia.

But with a prospective partnership with so-called 'big pharma' their cancer drug could be produced locally, added Dr. Bryant.

"The Caribbean islands, and particularly down to the Amazon, the poor Third World countries; I don't want to use the word rape, but they have not been treated very fairly in (terms of) the taking of natural resources out of their country. My observation is that if this turns out to be worth anything ... it would be great for Jamaica," he said.

- ross.sheil@gleanerjm.com

Cancers tested:

B-16 melanoma, breast cancer, prostrate cancer, kaposi sarcoma and a b-cell lymphona.

The cancers were chosen as representative of the majority of cancers while the latter two are the two most common affecting AIDS patients. Dr. Bryant's research team at the University of Maryland Institute of Human Virology (IHV) is the first in the world to create transgenic rats whose DNA has been manipulated to incorporate HIV-1 genes.

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