Indigenous Group Calls on Taiwanese Government to Prevent Biopiracy

by jeeg 16. May 2011 21:18

THE NETWORK of the Indigenous Peoples-Solomons (NIPS) calls on the Taiwan Government to develop and rigorously enforce appropriate laws to prevent future abuses of Indigenous Peoples’ rights and dignity by Taiwanese genetic researchers.


This call is in response to a case of biopiracy in which a Taiwanese researcher used genetic materials from Indigenous peoples of the Solomon Islands to file a US patent application.


NIPS stresses that relevant laws must apply to Taiwanese researchers, whether they conduct genetic research in Taiwan or abroad, in places such as the Solomon Islands.


It adds, that if the Taiwan government truly values its relationship with the Solomon Islands, it should work to develop and rigorously enforce such laws and regulations.


The Taiwan government’s ineffective laws and regulations were a major factor in the mass violations committed by Professor Ying-chin Ko, a prominent Taiwanese researcher on Indigenous peoples’ health.


During a 2006 research trip to the Solomon Islands, Prof. Ko sampled blood from about 800 Solomon Islanders, telling them the samples were only for health research purposes.


However, Prof. Ko and his colleagues then applied for US patent application 20100248253, which used genetic data from 192 of these Indigenous Solomon Islanders’ samples.


This US patent application led to a major controversy in March and April 2011.


Due to public pressure and diplomatic interventions by the Solomon Islands’ government, Prof. Ko withdrew the US patent application in early April 2011.NIPS has obtained a copy of a May 3rd, 2011 email in which Prof. Ko wrote he had repatriated back to the Solomon Islands, the 800 DNA and 634 plasma samples.


Prof. Ko also states in his email that he did not immortalize any cell lines belonging to the Solomon Islands research participants.

However, Ko has still not said if he will respect a publication ban on any future articles, patent applications, and genetic database entries based on data from the Solomon Islanders samples.


Furthermore, Ko has not clarified if he shared any cell lines with other colleagues.

NIPS asserts that such researchers are engaged in biopiracy, which raises very serious questions. For this is not the first such case involving Taiwanese researchers, because Ko and a colleague were forced to withdraw another US patent application (US20090098056) in March 2010.


This earlier withdrawal occurred after a major controversy in Taiwan because Ko had only received informed consent for health research from the over 1500 Taiwan Atayal Aboriginal donors, but not obtained informed consent for commercialization.


Prof. Ko is both Taiwan’s most prominent researcher on Aboriginal health and a repeat mass violator of Indigenous peoples’ rights and dignity, a major contradiction that indicates there are very serious problems in Taiwan’s laws and regulations over genetic research.


The Network of Indigenous Peoples-Solomons maintains that, "In addition to changing its legal and regulatory measures, the Taiwan government must look critically at its own actions, because the involved Taiwanese researchers, who violated the rights of Indigenous Solomon Islanders, received financial support, ethics approvals, and organizational support from Taiwanese government agencies."


NIPS considers that involved institutions must share responsibility for these violations including: Kaohsiung Medical University (KMU) which was the assignee of the now abandoned patent application 20100248253 (though KMU is a private university, it receives Taiwan government funding); the Taiwan National Science Council which funded Ko’s research trip to the Solomon Islands, and the Taiwan's National Health Research Institutes (NHRI) which gave Ko research and ethics approval.

Finally, though US patent application 20100248253 has been withdrawn and the Solomon Islanders’ samples repatriated, Dr Ko also committed ethics violations against over 1500 Taiwan Atayal Aborigines by using their genetic data in this US patent application.


Critically, Ko and his colleagues still have these over 1500 Atayal samples to do with as they want. Despite committing such massive violations of Indigenous peoples’ rights and dignity, Ko has still not faced any sort of legal charges nor any professional censure.


Therefore, NIPS is very concerned about what appears to be systemic racism in Taiwan’s science establishment that allows powerful researchers like Ko to violate the rights and dignity of Indigenous peoples with impunity.


Given the severity of these violations, NIPS reiterates that Taiwan must work to implement and rigorously enforce laws and regulations that prevent Taiwanese researchers from engaging in biopiracy against Indigenous peoples in the pursuit of commercial profit.

The Network of the Indigenous Peoples – Solomons (NIPS)


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