Africa And Aboriginal Tuesdays: Indigenous South Africans Eye Obesity Drug For Riches
South Africa's indigenous San people are looking to an obesity drug under development to bring wealth and improve infrastructure in their remote Kahalari desert homeland, an official said on Tuesday.
South Africa's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has patented the chemical entity extracted from the Hoodia cactus plant, which suppresses the appetite and was first discovered by San hunters who used it to avoid hunger pangs during long forays into the scorching desert.
CSIR licensed Phytopharm Plc to undertake further development, and the British company has said it is in talks with four major food companies about making an appetite-suppressing snack based on the Hoodia.
Under a benefit-sharing agreement, CSIR has agreed to give the tribe of some 100,000 people six percent of all royalties it derived from the drug, said CSIR spokeswoman Alida Britz.
"It's tremendous news," South African San Council official Mario Mahongo told Reuters in Upington, a town around 680 km west of the capital Pretoria.
"We can look to funds pouring into the clan directly from our own natural wealth and this will help improve infrastructure here. We want the results faster."
South African San Council represents the !Xun, Khwe, and ?Khomani, the three groups of a tiny indigenous community found in Botswana, Namibia, Angola and South Africa.
Mahongo and industry experts estimated that the San could expect at least $1.5 million initially and the figure could rise significantly depending on the drug's commercial success.
Phytopharm has code-named the project P57 and is looking for partner firms for its commercialisation after ending an initial agreement with U.S. drugmaker Pfizer Inc.
Last month, Phytopharm raised 6.5 million pounds ($11.95 million) through a placing of shares and South African industry sources said some of the cash could go to P57 research. The firm's publicists did not respond to enquiries on Tuesday.
The South African government, in an election year, has increased its efforts to improve the lives of the San.
Deputy President Jacob Zuma's office said the government had promised to do all it could "to ensure that the struggle of the Khoisan people for a better life bears fruition".
Recent government initiatives to meet the interests of the San have included building multi-purpose community centres in rural Khoisan communities and granting land to some San communities in terms of the land restitution process.
Copyright 2004, Reuters News Service
Tuesday, March 23, 2004
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