The trusted source for
healthcare information and
Controversy is over more than splitting genes
There might be collaboration rather than competition between privately funded efforts and the public consortium over mapping the human genome.
That’s because discussions among Rockville, MD-based Celera Genomics, a privately funded biotechnology firm; the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), a joint effort funded by the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD; and the U.S. Department of Energy are taking place, according to a report in The New York Times. At issue are billions of dollars in potential profit from genetic maps of the human genome. The ethical question is this: Should gene discoveries be free or patented?
The public consortium, which includes the NHGRI and England’s Wellcome Trust of London, has a policy of immediately releasing data. That policy would be difficult to change, says Francis Collins, MD, chair of the NHGRI. Celera, however, has applied for 6,500 patents for genes the company claims it has identified. Critics argue that the patents, if approved, would prevent scientists from conducting research and would allow Celera to profit at the public’s expense.
Biotechnology is big business
Celera entered the biotechnology industry with a bang. Celera got backing amounting to roughly $410 million to start up, not counting the estimated $200 million spent on its human genome sequencing efforts. NHGRI, on the other hand, receives roughly $3 billion in funds from the United States and several other countries.
NHGRI researchers have announced that the project will be complete by mid-2000, while officials with Celera contend they will finish before the public project is complete.