An international collaborative program to discover new drugs from tropical biodiversity of Vietnam and Laos

Djaja D. Soejarto*, John M. Pezzuto, Harry H.S. Fong, Ghee Teng Tan, Hong Jie Zhang, Pamela Tamez, Zeynep Aydogmus, Nguyen Quyet Chien, Scott G. Franzblau, Charlotte Gyllenhaal, Jacinto C. Regalado, Nguyen Van Hung, Vu Dinh Hoang, Hiêp Tien Nguyen, Le Thi Xuan, Nong Van Hai, Nguyen Manh Cuong, Truong Quang Bich, Phan Ke Loc, Bui Minh VuBoun Hoong Southavong, Kongmany Sydara, Somsanith Bouamanivong, Melanie J. O'Neill, Jane Lewis, Gregg Dietzman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


An International Cooperative Biodiversity Group (ICBG) program based at the University of Illinois at Chicago initiated its activities in 1998, with the following specific objectives: (a) inventory and conservation of plants of Cuc Phuong National Park in Vietnam and of medicinal plants of Laos; (b) drug discovery (and development) based on plants of Vietnam and Laos; and (c) economic development of communities participating in the ICBG project both in Vietnam and Laos. Member-institutions and an industrial partner of this ICBG are bound by a Memorandum of Agreement that recognizes property and intellectual property rights, prior informed consent for access to genetic resources and to indigenous knowledge, the sharing of benefits that may arise from the drug discovery effort, and the provision of short-term and long-term benefits to host country institutions and communities. The drug discovery effort is targeted to the search for agents for therapies against malaria (antimalarial assay of plant extracts, using Plasmodium falciparum clones), AIDS (anti-HIV-1 activity using HOG.R5 reporter cell line (through transactivation of the green fluorescent protein/GFP gene), cancer (screening of plant extracts in 6 human tumor cell lines - KB, Col-2, LU-1, LNCaP, HUVEC, hTert-RPE1), tuberculosis (screening of extracts in the microplate Alamar Blue assay against Mycobacterium tuberculosis H37Ra and H37Rv), all performed at UIC, and CNS-related diseases (with special focus on Alzheimer's disease, pain and rheumatoid arthritis, and asthma), performed at Glaxo Smith Kline (UK). Source plants were selected based on two approaches: biodiversity-based (plants of Cuc Phuong National Park) and ethnobotany-based (medicinal plants of Cuc Phuong National Park in Vietnam and medicinal plants of Laos). At UIC, as of July, 2001, active leads had been identified in the anti-HIV, anticancer, antimalarial, and anti-TB assay, after the screening of more than 800 extracts. At least 25 biologically active compounds have been isolated, 13 of which are new with anti-HIV activity, and 3 also new with antimalarial activity. At GSK of 21 plant samples with a history of use to treat CNS-related diseases tested to date, a number showed activity against one or more of the CNS assay targets used, but no new compounds have been isolated. The results of the drug discovery effort to date indicate that tropical plant diversity of Vietnam and Laos unquestionably harbors biologically active chemical entities, which, through further research, may eventually yield candidates for drug development. Although the substantial monetary benefit of the drug discovery process (royalties) is a long way off, the UIC ICBG program provides direct and real-term benefits to host country institutions and communities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalNatural Product Sciences
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2002

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Drug Discovery
  • Organic Chemistry

User-Defined Keywords

  • AIDS
  • Biodiversity
  • Cancer
  • CNS diseases
  • Drug discovery
  • ICBG
  • Laos
  • Malaria
  • Medicinal Plants
  • Plants
  • Tuberculosis
  • Vietnam


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