A P.E.I. researcher and Nunavut Tunngavik are negotiating what's being described as a precedent-setting agreement to share any profits from bioprospecting finds in Frobisher Bay.
Russell Kerr, a University of P.E.I. chemistry professor, wants to dig through Nunavut's mud in search of bacteria that could potentially be used in products ranging from face creams to cancer drugs.
Kerr was in Nunavut this week, but instead of starting his work, he spoke with Nunavut Tunngavik about sharing any profits from his findings. Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. is responsible for making sure the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement is properly implemented.
"I indicated that my lab and my university is very open to revenue-sharing agreements," Kerr said.
Bioprospectors seek micro-organisms with bioactive compounds that can be added to natural health-care products and cosmetics. A useful find has the potential to make a considerable amount of money.
"At the upper end of the range, which is a real long shot, a cancer drug can generate billions of dollars," Kerr said.
Finding an organism that could be used in cosmetics, which is more likely, could generate tens of thousands of dollars.
Inuit in the area worried that any finds would not benefit their local economy, but Kerr's talks with Nunavut Tunngavik are alleviating their concerns.
"I think it's precedent-setting in many ways," said Jamal Shirley of the Nunavut Research Institute.
While profit-sharing in traditional resource extraction such as mining is regulated, there are only some federal guidelines for bioprospecting.
Any agreement reached with Kerr and his university could be applied to future Nunavut projects, said Mary Ellen Thomas, director of the Nunavut institute.
Negotiations will continue until Kerr returns to start digging later this summer.
"I'm leaving with a very good feeling about being able to come back here, work with local groups, discover what's here and, should anything commercial be realized from this work, then share things with local people appropriately," Kerr said.