The QuorumEx Charter
Belize has one of the world's richest habitats for flora. No fewer than 4,000 known species of native flowering plants are found within its borders, along with about 700 species of trees and several hundred species of other plants. And new species are still being discovered. Scientists are only now beginning to carry out an exhaustive inventory of Belize's plants. The task is daunting: over 70 percent of the country is under some kind of forest cover, and almost half of Belize's primary forest is still standing.
It is this rich pool of diversity that drew the QuorumEx founders to locate their facilities and direct their efforts in Belize. This decision has proven fortuitous. In a brief span of two years we have identified and isolated plant compounds that promise to change the fundamental way that we look at disease, and we have developed products ranging from anti-bacterials to personal lubricants based on purely natural substances.
We have also identified numerous rare and hitherto unknown plants that promise future benefits once agricultural technology advances far enough to successfully cultivate them. One such example is Zamia decumbens. First discovered in 2008, this neurotoxic species of the Cycad family possesses remarkably potent antiviral properties. Further, these antiviral properties appear to be a result of multiple compounds within the plant acting synergistically. Unfortunately, this plant is one of the rarest in the world, existing only in Belize and isolated to the rims of a few scattered sinkholes. Fewer than 250 individual plants are known to exist. It is red listed and on the endangered species list and It has so far resisted all attempts at cultivation. QuorumEx is actively engaged in the preservation of this species. There are many similar stories from our short history that we could tell.
About 80 percent of people in developing countries still rely on traditional medicine – based largely on species of plants and animals – for their primary health care. In the United States, some 25 percent of prescriptions are filled with drugs whose active ingredients are extracted or derived from plants. Sales of these plant-based drugs in the U.S. amounted to some $4.5 billion in 1980 and an estimated $15.5 billion in 1990. Other drugs are derived from animals and microorganisms.
The possibilities for developing new drugs from tropical rain forest resources should figure heavily in any calculation of the forest's true worth. All 137 plant-derived drugs used worldwide in 1998 came from fewer than 90 of the 250,000 plant species that have been identified. Each such plant is a unique chemical factory, says Norman R. Farnsworth of the University of Illinois at Chicago, “capable of synthesizing unlimited numbers of highly complex and unusual chemical substances whose structures could [otherwise] escape the imagination … forever.” In other words, scientists may be able to synthesize these plant compounds in the laboratory, but dreaming them up, rather than plucking them from the forest and then replicating them, is quite another matter.
How much money is this effort worth? Since the mid-1960s, says Farnsworth, one-fourth of all prescription drugs dispensed from American pharmacies contained active ingredients derived from flowering plants. Commercially, these plant-derived medicines are worth about $29 billion a year in the United States and $80 billion worldwide. In 2008, Lilly Research Laboratories sold roughly $250 million worth of vincristine and vinblastine – the periwinkle derivatives used to treat childhood leukemia and Hodgkin’s disease.
Surprisingly, pharmaceutical companies do very little research on developing new drugs from wild plants. Why? For one thing, the industry has come to rely more on synthesized chemicals than on natural compounds for drugs, so the backlog of active natural substances still waiting to be tested is growing. For another, drug companies worry about whether they will be able to patent uses of natural products. At QuorumEx we are less concerned with patents than we are with furthering mankind's knowledge and producing life saving products. We are not alone. In the past three years, China, Germany, India, and Japan, among others, have earnestly begun screening wild species for new drugs.
Forest peoples originally discovered the medicinal uses of three-quarters of the plant-derived drugs currently in wide use. In the northwestern Amazon, indigenous people use at least 1,300 plant species to create “wilderness drugs.” In Southeast Asia, traditional healers use 6,500 different plants to treat malaria, stomach ulcers, syphilis, and other disorders. The World Health Organization estimates that 80 percent of people in the developing world rely on traditional medicines based largely on the use of medicinal plants.
Our goal is no less than a revolution in medicine and personal well being. Plant medicines have existed for millennium, and living systems have been the basis for a large percentage of all therapeutic drugs developed in the past 100 years. From Aspirin to Penicillin, the natural world has shown the way. We believe that the application of modern technology to the analysis of plant structures as a whole, as opposed to the extraction or synthesis of a single, or a few compounds, is the approach to medicine that will yield the highest results. Our success to date indicates that we are on the right track.