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Have you ever wondered where your food comes from? Not just where it’s grown today, but where it originally popped up in the world? Have you ever bit into a delicious ripe fruit and wondered, hey – why is it this color? What’s responsible for this amazing flavor? Is this good for my health? Could it even be medicinal?

Foodie Pharmacology is a science podcast built for the food curious, the flavor connoisseurs, chefs, science geeks, plant lovers and adventurous taste experimenters out in the world! Join American ethnobotanist Dr. Cassandra Quave on this adventure through history, medicine, cuisine and molecules as she explores the amazing pharmacology of our foods

May 26, 2020

In this 48th episode of the show, we’re going to embark on a journey from the Amazonian rainforest to the pharmacy as we retrace the pathway of bringing a botanical drug to market to treat serious cases of diarrhea as an FDA approved drug. I first encountered the source of this drug 20 years ago in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon. Locally known as Sangre de Drago – or the dragon’s blood tree – it is used in traditional medicine for both topical and internal afflictions. Its bark is a smooth pale grey, and a slip of a knife dragged across that bark reveals a weeping blood red latex, from which it gets its name. The scientific name of the plant is Croton lechleri and it is a member of the Euphorbiaceae – or spurge- family. My fascination with this species was further stoked when it was announced as the second ever FDA approved botanical drug, and is now prescribed to treat HIV related diarrhea. I speak with Dr. Steven King, Executive Vice President of Sustainable Supply and Ethnobotanical Research and intellectual property at Jaguar Health and Napo Pharmaceuticals, about his work on this fascinating medicinal species.

Hello foodies! Welcome back! This is Dr. Cassandra Quave and you’re listening to Foodie Pharmacology. In this 48th episode of the show, we’re going to embark on a journey from the Amazonian rainforest to the pharmacy as we retrace the pathway of bringing a botanical drug to market to treat serious cases of diarrhea as an FDA approved drug. 

I first encountered the source of this drug 20 years ago in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon. Locally known as Sangre de Drago – or the dragon’s blood tree – it is used in traditional medicine for both topical and internal afflictions. Its bark is a smooth pale grey, and a slip of a knife dragged across that bark reveals a weeping blood red latex, from which it gets its name. The scientific name of the plant is Croton lechleri and it is a member of the Euphorbiaceae – or spurge- family. My fascination with this species was further stoked when it was announced as the second ever FDA approved botanical drug, and is now prescribed to treat HIV related diarrhea.

Now, let me introduce you to the special guest of this episode. I’m super excited to speak with him today because he has been a part of this full journey from forest to approval and market launch of this special medicine.

Dr. Steven R. King is Executive Vice President of Sustainable Supply and Ethnobotanical Research and intellectual property at Jaguar Health and Napo Pharmaceuticals. Previously he worked with Shaman Pharmaceuticals, from 1990-2001 where he was in charge of international relations, ethnobotanical field research, conservation and long term supply of plant material for Shaman’s research and development activities. 

While working with Shaman Pharmaceuticals he and a diverse array of colleagues conducted extensive field research on the long-term sustainable harvest and management Croton lechleri. The results of this research on the sustainable supply on Croton lechleri has been disseminated widely in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

Prior to joining Shaman Pharmaceuticals Dr. King worked as the Chief Botanist for Latin America for the Nature Conservancy in Washington D.C. Before joining the Nature Conservancy he worked at the National Academy of Sciences as part of the Committee on Managing Global Genetic Resources where he focused on managing the genetic resources of tree species. 

He earned his Ph.D. in biology as a doctoral fellow of the Institute of Economic Botany of the New York Botanical Garden and his B. A. in Human Ecology from the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine.  He has focused his research on food and medicinal plant species in the highlands and tropical forest regions of Latin America, Africa and South East Asia.  He has conducted field research in Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Nigeria, Tanzania, Nepal and Papua New Guinea.  He has published 60 scientific papers and delivered 70 presentations on the process and results of his research collaborations.