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Due to a technical problem on Wednesday Jan 16, we are upgrading the news management system by a Canadian software company, which will be completed in coming days.

It has taken longer than anticipated. That is one of the drawbacks of outsourcing. C'est la vie - even Google News updating falls behind at times!

Business News Headlines to Jan 16 2008

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Click for Monday's stories and links from Jan 17 2008

Hoodia – A Namibian succulent that could ‘cure’ obesity.
  • Used for centuries by the San Bushmen (the direct descendents of the first humans) of Namibia to stave off hunger on long hunting trips.

  •  The plant has sparked interest for its perceived ability to suppress appetite and is under investigation as a key weapon in the fight against obesity. 

With pharmaceutical giants such as Pfizer having expressed an interest in the plant’s appetite suppressing properties, there has been an explosion of speculation into its use as a ‘miracle’ weight loss drug.

Fuelled by such speculation vast quantities of the plant have been ripped from the wild, decimating entire populations. The catch 22 is that until its properties are proven few will invest in planting the species as a commercial crop, but scientists fear that by the time this is established for sure the plants may be on the verge of extinction.

Plants which make up the basis of over 50% of all prescription drugs, are threatened with extinction; Future of human healthcare still overwhelmingly reliant on the plant kingdom

Looming Health Care Crisis: A new global study reveals that hundreds of medicinal plant species, whose naturally-occurring chemicals make up the basis of over 50% of all prescription drugs, are threatened with extinction. Sparking off fears of a global health care crisis, a consortium of leading experts acting through London-based organisation, Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), are calling for urgent action to help ‘secure the future of global healthcare’.

With 70% of all newly-developed drugs in the United States, the world’s largest and wealthiest pharmaceuticals market, being derived from natural sources, it is clear that despite major scientific advances, the future of human healthcare is still overwhelmingly reliant on the plant kingdom.

“We are using up a wide range of the world’s natural medicines and squandering the potential to develop new remedies“ says Sara Oldfield, Secretary General of BGCI “And yet it is perfectly possible to prevent plant extinctions”.

There was a time when scientists predicted that developments in biochemistry would mean that most if not all new drugs would be simply synthesised in the lab, however in recent years it has become increasingly clear that this is unlikely to happen. For while scientists are able to artificially replicate several medicinally-active compounds found in plants, a overwhelming number of these are still eluding all attempts to copy them, or it is simply not commercially viable to do so.

Take the world’s most widely-used cancer drug, Paclitaxel, for instance. Derived from the bark of several species of yew trees, its complex chemical structure and biological function has defied all attempts of commercial synthesis, gaining it the reputation for being “the kind of drug that would be impossible to design from scratch”. Yet with, until very recently, an average of 6 trees needed for just a single dose, its use has decimated wild yew populations across the world, with 80% of the trees in China’s Yunnan Province, once famous for its yew forests, destroyed within a three year period. “The dramatic decline in a range of yew species, highlights the global extinction crisis that is facing medicinal plant species.” says Oldfield.

Nowhere is this dependence on medicinal plants more acute than in developing countries, with the World Health Organisation estimating that an astonishing 80% of the global population, some 5.3 billion people, rely on traditional plant-based medicine as their primary form of healthcare, and in many cases collection and sales of these plants provide their only form of livelihood. Yet it is exactly in these areas that these plants are under most threat, putting the rural poor at the sharp end of the looming healthcare crisis.

“The loss of the world’s medicinal plants may not always be at the forefront of the public consciousness, however it is not an overstatement to say that if the precipitous decline of these species is not halted, it could destabilise the future of global healthcare, putting many millions of lives at risk.” reports Belinda Hawkins the report author.

What BGCI is doing to tackle this: The BGCI report for the first time combines the work of the world’s leading botanists, conservationists, healthcare professionals and traditional healers to identify which medicinal plant species are most at risk and what steps are needed to save them.

“Our report calls for co-ordinated global conservation efforts to save medicinal plants working with local communities and drawing on the skills and expertise of botanic gardens that have been involved in medicinal plant study since their first establishment 500 years ago.,” says Oldfield.

Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) is a membership organization linking botanic gardens in over 120 countries in a shared commitment to biodiversity conservation, sustainable use and environmental education. BGCI aims to mobilise botanic gardens and work with partners to secure plant diversity for the well-being of people and the planet.


Big Pharma faces bleak five years; 47% of Irish merchandise exports were from industry sector in 2006

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