The National Institutes of Health has renewed a five-year research grant for a total of $2.5 million to an international biodiversity group led by David G.I. Kingston, University Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Virginia Tech.
Kingston is known internationally for his work in biodiversity and development of naturally occurring cancer-fighting agents. Consistent with the Convention on Biological Diversity, he will share a portion of any royalties generated by sales of pharmaceuticals developed from this work with Madagascar, the country in which the research is taking place.
The award is the third competitive renewal of a research program that Kingston began in 1993. The grant was accompanied by a companion award for the United States Department of Agriculture of $1.25 million over the next five years.
The overall goals of the International Cooperative Biodiversity Group are to foster biodiversity conservation, economic development, and drug discovery in Madagascar. The proposed research integrates the work of eight different research groups, located in the United States and around the world.
Kingston will lead a group at Virginia Tech that will focus on biodiversity in the areas of cancer and malaria. Other research groups will focus on immunology, neurological disease, and agrochemistry. Madagascar is home to 5 percent of the world's plant and animal species, of which more than 80 percent are endemic to the region. This makes it a rich source of material for the team to screen for compounds with natural product activity of possible interest and value.
“The first naturally occurring anticancer drugs were isolated from the Madagascar periwinkle,” Kingston said. “It is our hope that we can find new anticancer agents from the country’s plants, microbes, or marine organisms so that we can provide a benefit to cancer patients as well as reward Madagascar for preserving its biodiversity.”
The group will also carry out economic development and biodiversity conservation initiatives in Madagascar Economic development work will make use of funds donated by industrial partners, while biodiversity conservation initiatives will include the completion of biodiversity surveys of well-defined forest preserves and training in botanical methods.