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Researcher speaks before U.N. on ethnomedicine collaborations with Alaska Natives

Dr. Maureen McKenzie shares her experience at meeting of the UN Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea.

Kenai, AK (July 6, 2007)—Dr. Maureen McKenzie, CEO of DENALI BioTechnologies, LLC, has been sharing her experience with the fledgling bioproducts industry in Alaska in a series of speaking engagements over the course of the last two months. The first was in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where Dr. McKenzie spoke about DENALI’s pre-eminent place in the Non-timber Forest Products industry. The second was in Montreal, Quebec where she discussed the use of Marine Genetics Resources in scientific research and ultimate commercialization. On June 26th, she culminated her round of speaking, by participating on an expert panel at the United Nations in New York City, NY. The focus of her discussion was on DENALI’s collaboration with Alaska Native organizations through her pioneering Biodiversity Access Agreement, and the implications of new discovery in both the nutraceutical and pharmaceutical industries for fair treatment of indigenous peoples, internationally.

She talked about her experience after returning from her travels this week. She said,

“Being a scientist and not an international policy-maker, I wondered what the questions and concerns would be. They were, obviously, different than what one would expect in a scientific conference.”

The delegates from all over the world had hours of questions for Dr. McKenzie and the three other panelists. The conversation between the experts and the delegates were simulcast in 15 different languages—there were, however, some very similar themes within the questioning.

When asked what direction that questioning took Dr. McKenzie responded, “I think, the real question is ownership. Who owns and governs these rights? And how are we fair to less, what can I say, less fortunate countries—developing countries? How do the G8 countries play into this? For example, the United States has not ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity. So, the United States has always been seen as the “bio-pirate” in the group. That was kind of interesting, because it was an American Company (DENALI) that was held up as the model for self-imposed governance on ethical, fair treatment of—as Alaska Natives are called in UN parlance—indigenous peoples.”

DENALI’s approach to working with indigenous people—Alaska Natives in particular—was put forward as a model for other countries.

“Well, I think that we have always been very concerned about non-trespass. I mean, we know that the land is not ours. The resources are not ours for just the taking. We don’t have a sense of entitlement over others,” said Dr. McKenzie of the philosophy behind DENALI’s Biodiversity Access Agreements. “We’ve always tried to promote the joint development of intellectual property, so that the ownership of knowledge and knowledge of the genetic resources has been memorialized in a format that the civilized world recognizes. Namely, the patent law, and that law is obviously international through the Patent Cooperation Treaty.”

“And so, we’re trying to educate and promote the proper use and compensation when something is commercialized. There should be a mechanism by which one gives back, for their sharing access and knowledge.”

After her return to Alaska, Dr. McKenzie flew immediately to Kake, Alaska, in Southeast. DENALI and Kake have worked together on the harvest of plant products in the past. Dr. McKenzie spoke of the visit to Kake as welcoming, and a perfect example of the kind of ongoing relationship and economic opportunity DENALI works to develop with villages and associations.

“Really, I think that it’s based on a little common sense and the Golden Rule. Just think about how—I thought about how I would like to be treated and how I expect to be treated, and how I expect colleagues to treat me and my intellectual property, and what I’ve created. I’ve just treated others how I expect to be treated,” Dr. McKenzie said.

Dr. McKenzie hopes Alaskans are proud of the biodiversity in their state, and aware of the responsibility that goes along with commercializing it. This issue is growing as people more clearly understand the scope of Alaskan genetic resources.

“It’s a very important one—very important. And, it is important to the people of the rainforest of Brazil, to the people of other exotic places with tremendous biodiversity. I think that it really allowed Alaska, to shine through as a place that had way more biodiversity than anybody probably imagined,” Dr. McKenzie said. “Alaskans should be very proud of what we have, and they should be very protective of it, and it should be handled in an appropriate manner. That’s what we’re trying to do, so that it isn’t misappropriated to those who don’t deserve to benefit from it in the way they might be looking to benefit.  In other words, there should be decorum. And that’s what we’re trying to implement.”

About DENALI BioTechnologies

DENALI BioTechnologies, LLC was formed by a scientist and an engineer to develop unique, unsurpassed dietary supplements. DENALI is the only company in this industry involved in discovery from extreme boreal environments of Alaska and neighboring regions. The company is focused on becoming a leader in the dietary supplement industry by creating a line of products validated by strong scientific and clinical data.

DENALI selects candidates for nutraceutical development based on the quality of ethnomedicinal documentation and correlation of traditional uses with overall good health or alleviation of various health problems. DENALI respects the scientific evidence that demonstrates Alaska Natives’ relative freedom from chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and complications, and cancer, and the traditional knowledge they possess for management of pain, and acute conditions such as injury and infection. Ethnomedicinal information is then corroborated with extensive in-house research, independent laboratory evaluation, and substantiation in the scientific literature.

DENALI BioTechnologies, LLC
35555 Spur Highway
PMB 321
Soldotna, Alaska 99669

(907) 283-5000
(907) 283-5018 (f)

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