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Craig Venter of Celera Genomics:
"We will not be patenting the human genome"
 real 28k

Professor John Sulston of UK Sanger Centre
"Most people do not want human genes to be patented or kept private"
 real 28k

The BBC's Susan Watts:
"Clinton is pleading with those at the forefront to do the right thing"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 15 March, 2000, 12:39 GMT
Call to publish all gene data praised

The US and the UK have responded to concern that private companies will monopolise human gene technology by supporting calls for all raw research data to be freely available to scientists everywhere.

We must ensure that the profits of human genome research are measured not in dollars but in the betterment of human life

President Bill Clinton
In a joint statement on Tuesday, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President Bill Clinton said free access to the human genome project (HGP) would reap massive medical benefits.

"Unencumbered access to this information will promote discoveries that will reduce the burden of disease, improve health around the world and enhance the quality of life for all human kind," the statement said.

Plunging stocks

Wall Street reacted quickly to Tuesday's announcement, with biotechnology stocks plunging and dragging other US shares lower as well.

But both the private companies and the publicly-funded researchers claimed the statement endorsed their current positions.

Two leading companies, Celera Genomics and Human Genome Sciences, told the BBC that their businesses would be unaffected as they already intended to make their raw data public (though the timescale and conditions of this disclosure are unclear).

They said they only intend to patent "added-value" data, in which genes, their functions and their medical utility have been worked out. Mr Blair and Mr Clinton said patents should be awarded for inventions derived from the raw data.

However, publicly-funded researchers also expressed their happiness that their position - fast and full publication of raw data - had been fully endorsed by the leaders of the two countries heading the effort to decode the human genetic code.

Free access

The US and the UK, and leading partners in the non-profit Human Genome Project, plan to publish a draft genetic map this year and full version by 2003. This information would be free to all researchers.

The joint statement urged privately-funded scientists around the world - mainly in America - to adopt the same policy.

Government-backed scientists have been locked in a race with Celera to decode all three billion human DNA base pairs. The company intends to make commercial use of its findings.

Speaking at an annual technology awards ceremony on Tuesday, Mr Clinton said that the profits of human genome research should be measured in human life and not in dollars.

The BBC Washington correspondent says the issue has become urgent because Celera appears to be ahead in its research and the governments do not want it to dominate the market.

Wall Street plunge

Celera has said it hopes to finish the main part of its work this year.

The two groups of scientists chasing the code met recently to try to agree a way in which all data would be made public, but the initiative ended in failure.

Tuesday's announcement caused a wide sell-off in stocks of biotechnology companies, many of which had hoped to profit from research in this area. The technology heavy Nasdaq index fell nearly 200 points - its second worst point drop in its history - or 4%, to 4,708.27.

Mr Clinton and Mr Blair stressed that companies should still be able to acquire patents for inventions derived from the raw data.

The companies have claimed that without patent protection they cannot guarantee to earn back the money invested in the research in the first place.

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See also:

14 Mar 00 | Business
Biotech stocks plunge
08 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
Gene company wants to share
23 Nov 99 | Sci/Tech
Genome race hots up
06 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
Gene firm labelled a 'con job'
27 Oct 99 | Sci/Tech
Human gene patents defended
18 Feb 00 | Washington 2000
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