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By Priscilla Raepom

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (December 4, 1998 - The Independent)---An extrication from a Papua New Guinean woody plant (family-flacourtiaceae), currently undergoing screening and testing in the United States, is said to have potential in treating cancer.

A pharmacologist from the University of Papua New Guinea, Dr. Lohi Matainaho, who was involved in the initial testing, said the extraction was screened against a panel of 60 types of human cancer cell lines and it has shown interesting activity against more sensitive cancer cell lines such as renal, prostate and breast cancer.

Dr. Matainaho said efforts are being made to uncover the active compound -- the specific element in the extraction that is active against cancer cells -- even though it appears to be similar to an active compound discovered earlier, possibly from a plant from the same family.

He said the current status of the screening and testing process is most promising and further testing is required, but the process involved in developing an extraction to a new drug is a long one and would be very costly.

"Drug development can take up eight to ten years and about US$ 2 million - US$ 3 million to fund," he said. The research, a collaboration of the American National Cancer Institute (NCI), through its University of Illinois (Chicago) contractor, and the Forest Research Institute includes collections of the plant from the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Meanwhile, a pharmacologist from NCI, Dr. Gordon Graigg, was in the country last week to follow-up on a memorandum of understanding between NCI and UPNG on the terms and conditions of collecting plant and animal resources from PNG.

Dr. Graigg met with officials from UPNG and the Department of Environment and Conservation to discuss issues pertaining to conducting research and developing drugs for cancer treatment.

Climate change specialist Dr. Simon Saulei said Papua New Guinea has one of the largest biological diversities in the world and the potential of discovering new drugs for treatment of diseases is very high.

Dr. Saulei said there are a number of plant and animals species that have potential for agricultural, industrial and medicinal uses. The use of many of these resources has not yet been fully exploited or realized, he noted.

He added, however, that there was a need for legislation to be in place, such as international property rights, to allow resource owners to be compensated should a drug be discovered in their country.

"There is also a need for proper equipment, trained manpower in biochemistry and pharmacology and a collaboration of specialists working together. Research has been done in isolation and the establishment of the Papua New Guinea Institute of Biodiversity (PINBio) will bring everyone together," he said.

PINBio, recently established to ensure the potential use of PNG's biological diversity, has set out to promote a new awareness of the values of PNG's natural biodiversity, achieve natural biodiversity conservation and improve the quality of life.

The five major areas in which PINBio -- which will consist of representatives from national institutes, NGOs and government agents conducting research and development on the management of the country's biodiversity -- will conduct bio-prospecting research and development are:

Dr. Saulei said a possible treatment for AIDS has been discovered in Sarawak, Malaysia by a joint venture pharmaceutical company and the tree (family-calophyllum) is a species/genus from a same family of plants also found in PNG.

For additional reports from The Independent, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Independent (Papua New Guinea).

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