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The University of California, Berkeley, has signed an agreement with the Samoan government to isolate from an indigenous tree the gene for a promising anti-AIDS drug and to share any royalties from sale of a gene-derived drug with the people of Samoa.
The agreement, announced today (Thursday, Sept. 30) in Apia, the capital of Samoa, supports Samoa's assertion of national sovereignty over the gene sequence of Prostratin, a drug extracted from the bark of the mamala tree (Homalanthus nutans). The drug currently is being studied by scientists around the world because of its potential to force the AIDS virus out of hibernation in the body's immune cells and into the line of fire of anti-AIDS drugs now in use.
"Prostratin is Samoa's gift to the world," explained Samoan Minister of Trade Joseph Keil. "We are pleased to accept the University of California as a full partner in the effort to isolate the Prostratin genes."
Despite Prostratin's promise as an anti-AIDS drug, its supply is limited by the fact that the drug has to be extracted from the bark and stemwood of the mamala tree. Researchers in the laboratory of Jay Keasling, UC Berkeley professor of chemical engineering, plan to clone the genes from the tree that naturally produce Prostratin and insert them into bacteria to make microbial factories for the drug. A similar technology is currently being explored to produce the anti-malarial drug artemisinin.