The biodiversity treaty that kicked up such a fuss with U.S.negotiators at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro last Juneposes no big problem for Calyx Pharmaceuticals Inc.,Pharmagenesis and Shaman Pharmaceuticals.

Under the broader aim of slowing the extinction of plants andanimals, the treaty provides that Third World nations shouldshare in the rights or royalties of commercial productsdeveloped from natural compounds found within their borders.

Although the Bush administration decided that the UnitedStates should opt out of signing the treaty, U.S. companies willneed to heed the treaty's provisions in their dealings with itsmore than 150 signatory nations.

At Calyx, co-founder Jeff Labovitz, disagrees with Bush'sopposition to the treaty. "They are taking a very hard line," hesaid. "You just need to look at pharmaceutical companies likeMerck and Bristol-Myers Squibb that are involved incollaborations abroad and who understand that they mustreturn the value of the resources they are using." Merck gave$1 million to the Costa Rican government under a 1991 drug-discovery effort.

Developing good working relationships with Third Worldnations is increasingly important as nations become moresensitive to the value of their resources, said Calyx's Labovitz.But he sees many avenues to reaching an appropriateagreement, including cash payments, training, technology andinvolvement in business ventures at a local level.

Shaman appears to have anticipated the outcry raised insupport of the treaty when it established the Healing ForestConservancy in late 1991. The conservancy, which is to befunded with an undisclosed portion of Shaman's future profits,is to encourage host nations to maintain their knowledge oftraditional medicinal plants.

The conservancy's mission statement incorporated all thetenets of the treaty long before it became an issue, said LisaConte, Shaman's president and chief executive officer. Thecompany's business methods won't be affected by the treaty'sprovisions, she said.

Pharmagenesis also believes it will be unaffected by the treaty.The company's relationships with its Asian collaborators shouldsafeguard it, said Hank Wuh, Pharmagenesis' president andchief executive officer. -- Michelle Slade

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.