312An excerpt for all to read.
- Feb 11, 2002The Guardian
An American company has applied to patent one of the bacteria that
causes meningitis. It could lead to royalties being paid on every
treatment if a new vaccine against the illness is found.
The application is one of three filed with the European Patent
by Human Genome Sciences (HGS), who are seeking to be the first to
the whole genetic sequence of bacteria. If the application is
as seems likely, it will open the door for commercial companies to
patent any lifeform from which they think they can make money -
including human gene sequences.
The prospect has appalled scientists in the field, who believe
discoveries should be shared for the common good and that the
for patents for commercial gain will damage research.
There were 2,660 cases in England and Wales last year of the most
dangerous meningococcal form of meningitis, of which 243 were fatal.
Many of the victims of the largest outbreak for 50 years were young
children. The illness strikes quickly and is difficult to diagnose.
Julia Warren of the Meningitis Research Foundation said: "The idea
that someone should try to patent bacteria and then claim a royalty
our research if we find a vaccine had never occurred to me. I am
stunned. It could make treating children prohibitively expensive.
our money goes on research: we cannot afford royalties as well. Will
these companies accept responsibility if people die because we could
not afford to vaccinate them?"
The Wellcome Trust, which encourages the sharing of gene research,
also fears the consequences. Celia Caulcott said: "There is evidence
that commercial companies are doing research and then not publishing
it while they look for ways to exploit the knowledge they have
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