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  • jerry_weinstein
    Feb 11, 2002
      The 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
      Office
      by Human Genome Sciences (HGS), who are seeking to be the first to
      own
      the whole genetic sequence of bacteria. If the application is
      granted,
      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
      scramble
      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
      on
      our research if we find a vaccine had never occurred to me. I am
      stunned. It could make treating children prohibitively expensive.
      All
      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
      gained.
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