Merck & Co. Inc. will pay $1 million over the next two years toprospect for natural sources of new therapeutics in the rainforests of Costa Rica.

The agreement between the pharmaceutical giant and CostaRica's Instituto National de Biodiversidad (INBio) wasannounced by INBio President Rodrigo Gamez on Sept. 20 at aconference at Cornell University.

Cornell biologist Thomas Eisner helped mediate the agreement,in which Merck has pledged to donate part of its profits on anyresulting products to conservation efforts in Costa Rica. Thecountry has set aside a quarter of its land as national parksand preserves, and is estimated to hold 5 percent of theworld's species diversity.

Merck will provide INBio with research funding, training,equipment and certain start-up expenses, as well as royaltieson net sales of any products Merck develops from an INBiosample.

Merck will receive a minimum number of samples and theexclusive right to evaluate them for a defined term.

Field biologists will be looking for leaves that lie on theforest floor untouched by mold, insect eggs that remainuntouched by microbes, or plants that stay unchewed by pests.These may contain antibiotics, insect repellants and othermedically and agriculturally useful substances.

Several Merck products already on the market came fromnatural sources, including Mevacor, a cholesterol-loweringdrug approved in 1987 that was derived from a fungus. --Roberta Friedman, Ph.D.

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