May 1, 2004
Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University

A significant percentage of world's prescription medicines are derived from natural products. There has also been a steady increase in the natural medicines market. These trends may provide an opportunity for developing countries with large biological resources to implement industrial and technological development strategies based on those resources. Developing countries face several problems in the pharmaceutical sector due to technological dependency, precarious access to medicines and the fact that research-based companies do not direct efforts toward diseases that are prevalent in those countries.

To fully understand the opportunities biological resources might present, it is necessary to conduct a careful analysis of the industrial, technological, and regulatory environments, both at national and international levels. While developing countries do share some common characteristics in terms of their integration into the world economy not all of them have industrial and technological capabilities in the pharmaceutical sector.

Brazil provides an interesting case study for the analysis of natural products and pharmaceutical development opportunities. Brazil is among the world's five richest countries in biodiversity, has an established pharmaceutical industry, is among the top ten pharmaceutical markets in the world, and has a good science and technological infrastructure for natural products research. Yet Brazil is also dependent upon importation of inputs and products from the world's most developed countries, and access to medicines is a public health problem throughout the country.

The ultimate aim of this paper is to discuss the extent to which a developing country can benefit from windows of opportunity in the pharmaceutical industry related to biodiversity, with special attention given to the case of Brazil.

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