Event Explains Partnerships In Natural Products Research Through Thai Experience With Novartis

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Alongside the World Intellectual Property Organization meeting on protection of genetic resources last week, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA) organised a side event on natural product research.

The WIPO Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC) met from 4-8 February.

This side event was an occasion for Frank Petersen, head of the natural products unit at Swiss biopharmaceutical company Novartis, and Bubpha Techapattaraporn, from the National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (BIOTEC) in Thailand, to introduce the collaborative experience on natural products research between BIOTEC and Novartis. BIOTEC is a government-backed research institute.

Techapattaraporn qualified the agreement between BIOTEC and Novartis as “an equal partnership based on complementary expertise of both parties,” whose objective is to “find potential use of microorganisms and natural compounds as sources of potential new medicines.”

To support this idea, she emphasised the involvement of both partners. She highlighted that BIOTEC put at the disposal of Novartis its expertise in knowledge of microorganisms which then permitted Novartis to benefit from the diversity of microbes available in Thailand and to “include Thai biodiversity in modern drug discovery.”

She said that in exchange, Novartis offered technology transfer and performed capacity-building activities through the training of experts and organisation of seminars which in the end “enabled BIOTEC to accumulate more strains and permitted to set different research directions.”

On the legal framework on the agreement, Petersen underscored that BIOTEC is the owner of the strains and that Novartis receives time-limited, exclusive user right. “BIOTEC conducts its own research programs with same strains,” he added.

He also put emphasis on the conformity of the mechanism with the requirements of the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

“The partnership covers a broad range of research and development activities like required under Article 5.1 of the Nagoya Protocol,” he said, adding that “there is an inclusion of indigenous groups by collaboration partner or governments in accordance with Articles 6 and 13 of the Nagoya Protocol.”

This mechanism might be an example of a model for partnership. Academics tend to agree that such partnerships can be beneficial for the development of countries in the global South. However, one might wonder how these partnerships work for medicines for which there is no market. In other words, one can try to question the engagement of pharmaceutical companies in such natural product research in the case of neglected diseases for which people are unable to pay for the resulting treatment. There, one may try to understand how pharmaceutical companies could work in collaboration with national agencies to develop medicines.


Tiphaine Nunzia Caulier may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

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