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Studies detail triumphs, troubles of African innovators creating products for local health needs

ght require investors to accept health benefits as part of their overall "return."

Harnessing biodiversity:
The Malagasy Institute of Applied Research (IMRA)

Biopiracy the use of a people's long-established medical knowledge without acknowledgement or compensation has been a disturbing historical reality and exacerbates the global rich-poor divide.

Bioprospecting, however, describes the commercialization of indigenous medicines in a manner acceptable to the local people. Bioprospectors seeking to develop traditional medicines in a quality-controlled manner face several challenges, however: a lack of skilled labor and high-tech infrastructure, adapting developed world R&D protocols to developing world settings, keeping products affordable locally, and managing the threat of biopiracy.

The Malagasy Institute of Applied Research (IMRA) has employed bioprospecting to develop new health treatments for conditions such as diabetes and burns. It has found a balance between Western science and Malagasy cultural traditions and offers a useful example for African and other organizations interested in bioprospecting.

IMRA follows four guiding principles:

  • Understand and respect local practices, and use them rather than resist them.

  • Engage the local community early in the drug development process, and ensure local people have a stake in its success.

  • Actively collaborate with local and international partners to increase credibility and research capacity.

  • Obtain foreign research funds targeting the "diseases of civilization" to cross-fund the development of drugs for conditions that affect the Malagasy population.

Using these principles, IMRA developed products like Madeglucyl, a treatment for diabetes management based on a traditional remedy.

Say the authors: "Stoked by identity politics and a broader debate about the

Contact: Terry Collins
McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health

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