Who Owns Your Genes?
|January 19, 2005||Posted by Staff under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Who Owns Your Genes?
Editorial on Gene Patenting
Here is an interesting editorial that appeared in the London Guardian.
The gold rush for genes
It must be stopped: they belong to us
Human genes should not be the subject of patents. Processes and applications that arise from their discovery yes: but the genes themselves, never. And if the law – in Britain or Europe – is capable of being interpreted otherwise then the law must be changed. In a civilised world it should not be necessary even to have a discussion about this: but it is both necessary and urgent because of the imperialistic way some American biology companies are trying to claim the products of evolution.
The latest is the Salt Lake City corporation, Myriad Genetics, which claims to have “patented” two genes for breast-cancer screening (BRCA and BRCA2) and is moving in on the European market to exploit what they hope will be a monopoly position. A European directive on patents, to be incorporated in British law in the summer, is ambiguous on the topic. In this instance, Myriad’s claims are themselves in dispute because of the pioneering work done in this country by Cambridge’s prestigious Sanger Institute and the Institute of Cancer Research (which claims that it discovered one of the genes first).
Either way it should not be patentable and especially not by privately owned corporations which often come on to the scene late in the day after the huge cost of basic research has been done by publicly funded institutes like Sanger, which put their discoveries into the public domain for free. This is altruism, but it also makes business sense because all the pharmaceutical and biotech companies can then have access to all of the research. If they then devise processes using those gene sequences to make themselves lots of money, that is fine. It can take a decade and hundreds of millions of pounds to bring one of these discoveries to market and most are abandoned long before they get that far.
Corporations rightly require profits proportionate to the big risks they take. No one argues with that. But it does not mean they can rush in at the last minute and patent the rights to the basic ingredients of human life. It is like a company joining a gold rush after all the research and mining has been done to snap up all the nuggets lying around.
Who owns the blueprints of life is one of the most important issues to be faced during a century expected to witness an explosion of activity in biotech industries. The ground rules of this revolution must be established hard and fast: and now.
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