Institute for Ethnomedicine Research on Antiviral Remedies

The Institute for Ethnomedicine has been assisting the Government of Samoa, the University of California, Berkeley, and the AIDS Research Alliance (ARA), Hollywood, in the development of the antiviral drug, Prostratin, which was discovered from a Samoan plant used to treat hepatitis. At the request of the Samoan Government, an Institute for Ethnomedicine team led by Dr. Holly Johnson has identified high-yielding genotypes for cultivation by Samoan villagers.

During ethnobotanical research in Samoa, Dr. Paul Cox was taught by two different traditional healers how to use the bark of the mamala tree (Homalanthus nutans, Euphorbiaceae) to treat patients with hepatitis. The healers, who are typically very modest about their plants, told Dr. Cox that they could cure hepatitis with one or two doses. Collaborating with a team at the National Cancer Institute led by Dr. Gordon Cragg, Dr. John Beutler, and others, Dr. Cox provided samples of the healer potion for analysis with permission of the village chiefs and the Samoan government. The healer potion and the mamala plant from which it was extracted showed extraordinary efficacy against the AIDS virus HIV-1.

Because of the unique ability of Prostratin to prevent death in human cells infected with the AIDS virus, and its ability to expose hidden virus to the action of other drugs, Prostratin was chosen as the major focus of the AIDS Research Alliance.

The Institute for Ethnomedicine has negotiated two major benefit sharing agreements for Prostratin with the people of Samoa. The first agreement guarantees 20% of ARA’s Prostratin profits to be shared with the Government of Samoa, the village where mamala was collected, and the families of the two healers who assisted in Prostratin’s discovery. The second agreement between UC Berkeley and Samoa guarantees 50% of all proceeds from cloning of the Prostratin genes to the Samoan Government, village, and healers. Both agreements are internationally considered to be ground-breaking achievements.