John Sulston Opposes Gene Patents

by jeeg 29. June 2010 00:16

 

Human genetic information must be kept in the public domain to allow researchers to analyse it and to give members of the public fair access to medical treatments, the Nobel prizewinning scientist who led the British contribution to the Human Genome Project said today.

Speaking at a briefing at the Science Museum in London to mark the 10th anniversary of the first draft of the human genome, biologist John Sulston said scientists and lawmakers must resist attempts by corporations and individuals to patent human genes.

In the US, for example, it costs a woman between $3,000 and $4,000 to be tested for familial breast cancer because a corporation owns the patent for the two genes involved. "The fact of the matter is that many human genes have patent rights on them and this is going to get in the way of treatment unless you have a lot of money," said Sulston. "And it's going to get in the way of research."

Sulston said he was particularly concerned about the intentions of scientists such as Craig Venter, who made headlines earlier this month when he unveiled work described in the media as "the world's first artificial life form".

Sulston said Venter's work was "clever and pretty" but was not artificial life. "What that advance is being used for is an attempt to monopolise, through the patenting system, essentially all the tools for genomic manipulation," he said. "Let's be clear that the tools for manipulating genomes should be in the public domain. This is not just a philosophical point of view, it's actually the case that monopolistic control of this kind would be bad for science, bad for consumers and bad for business, because it removes the element of competition."

Before the Human Genome Project completed its first draft in 2000, Sulston had fought to keep the genome data freely accesible to researchers around the world. At the same time, Craig Venter was racing to sequence the human genome through his company, Celera, with the intention of charging reseachers for access to the information. In 2000, the two sides brokered a deal through the mediation of the UK and US governments and the human genome was put in the public domain.

 

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