, Volume 9, Issue 11, pp 1521-1541

From Norway to Novartis: cyclosporin from Tolypocladium inflatum in an open access bioprospecting regime

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The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) introduces a new regime of source countries' national sovereignty over genetic resources, in which benefit sharing is a central factor. This article shows how Tolypocladium inflatum was collected in Norway in 1969 within an open access regime implying that there is no benefit sharing with the source country from Novartis' present sales of the derived medicines based on cyclosporin. We estimate source country's loss of benefits in comparison with present norms and expectations concerning bioprospecting. Two percent annual royalties would have been a reasonable claim in this case, and in 1997 this amounted to US$ 24.3 million. Such benefits could, for instance, have been targeted to conservation, scientific capacity building and health care. The study provides an indication of possible gains for source countries – countries with developed as well as developing economies – in a case of the finding of a blockbuster drug. Institutional prerequisites for benefit sharing are discussed, and the emphasis, which often is placed on the role of patents as the cause of lack of source country benefits, is in this case found to be misleading.