understanding and a material transfer agreement (MTA) with a commercialization trigger—that is, the benefits must be renegotiated if something becomes a lead compound and moves on to commercialization. Because of its focused nature and the fact that the materials are completely controlled by the government, I do not think this is the most adaptable model.
The second model is represented by the International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups (ICBGs). These are investigator-initiated grants for biodiversity collections and biodiscovery research. The materials are managed by the grantees. However, each Group has very high transaction costs in the form of unique memoranda of understanding and material transfer agreements.
The ICBG program, which began in 1993, has a philosophy that is very similar to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), although those two efforts were parallel and independent of each other. We started with three interdependent observations. First, we knew at the beginning of the ICBG program that nature is a rich source for new drugs. For example, about half of the FDA-approved drugs currently on the market are based directly or indirectly on natural products. Second, discovering natural products requires accessing biodiversity, but biodiversity is threatened globally. Finally, we felt that countries should own their own biodiversity and that they should receive some benefit from its use, which could in turn serve as incentives for the further preservation of biodiversity. Biodiversity might then become a sustainable source for future products from biodiscovery.
The novelty of this program as it was originally conceived was that we would ask groups doing research in this field to address all of the goals in one integrated program; that is, biodiscovery, biodiversity conservation, and the development of models to provide appropriate benefits for access and use of biodiversity. It was thus a highly ambitious project.
NIH’s charge was simply not broad enough to do this. We had a congressional mandate to do health discovery, but not to do biodiversity conservation or economic development. So we formed a funding consortium with three partners. Drug discovery was represented by NIH and included approximately nine Institutes and Centers at NIH with an interest in a broad array of therapeutic areas.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which had experience with development conservation projects, represented expertise and authority for providing economic benefits. Finally, the National Science Foundation had a mandate for biodiversity conservation and bioinventory.
Over time, this funding consortium expanded further. There is a very high cost associated with sending a team to a remote rainforest. Furthermore, all natural materials potentially have multiple applications. When we take a leaf off a tree, we can test it for drug discovery, for use in bioenergy solutions, for agrochemical and animal health technologies, and for a variety of other purposes. So, the program has evolved over time to become even more complicated for the sponsors.
USAID eventually dropped out because its funding schedule did not match everybody else’s. Since then, however, we have brought in the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support discovery of agrochemicals. The Department of Energy joined us last year. We work with Dan Drell, who is at this meeting, on bioenergy solutions. Our most recent partner is the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, which is interested in products from the seas and healthy oceans. The rationale for bringing the different partners together is severalfold. Not only is there some economy of