Gene rights ban rejected

by jeeg 22. September 2011 19:57

A PROPOSED ban on the controversial patenting of human genetic material has lost the support of a Senate committee which threatens to renew the intense debate that has pitched patients and doctors against researchers and biotech companies.

A narrow majority of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee in a report tabled last night, recommended against a private members' bill which would have outlawed the patenting of human genetic material.

The issue of patent rights for naturally-occurring human genetic material isolated by biotech companies has fuelled outcry from patients and doctors alarmed at the prospect of patents on human tissue and the resulting high-priced tests for cancer and other diseases.

Research and industry leaders have counter-attacked, arguing the patents are required to make research economic and that a proposed legislative ban would stifle development and discovery of new diagnostic tests, therapies and vaccines.

Last night, Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan, rejected the majority committee decision to accept the industry argument that a human gene was an ''invention'' as ''a furphy''.

Those with most to gain financially, patent lawyers, and the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry had worked for the defeat of the proposed legislation by arguing that genes were patentable when ''isolated and purified'' or removed from the body and replicated. ''This argument seems absurd to me,'' Senator Heffernan told the Senate.

''If we allow the patenting of genes, we are allowing the patenting of ourselves.''

But the chairwoman of the committee, Labor's Trish Crossin, said in the report that while the proposed legislation was ''well-intentioned'', it posed fresh difficulties in trying to clarify the distinction between invention and discovery.

The problems included possible long delays for patients access to new diagnostic tests and a reduction in investment for medical research.

Mark Metherell, Brisbane Times

 

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