Genomic resource centre

Intellectual property and human genomics

Contemporary genome research shows promise of being a valuable resource for the future of health and medicine. Genomic research has the potential to make diagnoses more precise, risks more readily determined, and treatments more accurate and cost-effective. In this regard the potential for developing countries is substantial.

However, even though some excellent examples of research developments and the use of genomics for developing countries are known today, there has not been sufficient focus on genetic research for health problems prevalent in developing countries, genomic investment in many developing countries, and genomic technology transfer and exchange in developing countries—all of which contribute to the conditions necessary for genomic innovation in developing countries, and ultimately to improved health outcomes.

Consequently, there are two main strategic concerns that confront health professionals and policy makers today.

  • Are we heading towards a great genomic divide that will reproduce the health inequities and problems of health development of the last century?
  • What concrete interventions are needed to ensure that the potential of genomics is tapped to promote health in developing countries, rather than repeating the errors of health development history?

The central issue in public health and equity for the future of both developed and developing countries is innovation.

Regarding genomics, several concerns have been repeatedly expressed over innovation and the future of public health. The two main concerns on which fuel the existing genomics, innovation and public health debate are (1) a general worry surrounding the appropriateness of intellectual property (IP) regimes for developing countries juxtaposed by an impetus toward increased global harmonization of patent policy; and (2) a more specific to genomics, a concern around the adequacy and appropriateness of current national patent regimes to address questions of DNA patenting and commercialization of the human genome in both developing and developed countries.

While patent protection is an important aspect of promoting health innovation in genomic research, the kinds of genetic patents currently being awarded and the corresponding social and public health interests require greater international and public health scrutiny, contextualized in the broader issues of intellectual property regimes for low to middle income countries. The trend toward international harmonization of intellectual property regimes needs to be reconciled with public health and health for all. At the same time, solutions need to be balanced by a concern for promoting research, development, and innovation.

Resources on Intellectual property, patents and genetics:


  • Centre for the management of IP in health R&D
    MIHR is an independent not-for-profit venture based in London, and will have a working presence in several other sites particularly in developing countries where it will work with and through a number of its partner organisations. MIHR plans to have sites in Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America in addition to its headquarters in London.
  • Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation and Public Health (CIPIH)
    Created in May 2003, the Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation and Public Health Commission (CIPIH) will review the interfaces and linkages between intellectual property rights, innovation and public health in the light of current evidence and examine in depth how to stimulate the creation of new medicines and other products for diseases that mainly affect developing countries.
  • Intellectual Property Law Web Server
    This is a site full of detailed information on patents and intellectual property in general. It is hosted by a US law firm Oppedahl and Larson and offers patent, copyright, trademark, trade secret, and other intellectual property services.
  • The South Centre
    The South Centre came formally into being as an intergovernmental body of developing countries on 31 July 1995, when the Intergovernmental Agreement to establish the Centre came into force. Currently, 46 countries are members of the South Centre. The Centre, however, works for the benefit of the South as a whole, making efforts to ensure that all developing countries and interested groups and persons have access to its publications and the results of its work, irrespective of membership.
  • The National Human Genome Research Institute, NIH, USA.
    The National Human Genome Research Institute's (NHGRI) Ethical, Legal and Social Implications (ELSI) Program was established in 1990 as an integral part of the Human Genome Project (HGP) to foster basic and applied research, and support education and outreach. The ELSI program funds and manages studies related to the ethical, legal and social implications of genetic and genomic research, and supports workshops, research consortia and policy conferences related to these topics. The ELSI program at NHGRI is the largest supporter nationwide of ELSI research.
  • The US Department of Energy
    Begun formally in 1990, the U.S. Human Genome Project is a 13-year effort coordinated by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health. Project goals are to identify all the approximate 30,000 genes in human DNA, determine the sequences of the 3 billion chemical base pairs that make up human DNA, store this information in databases, improve tools for data analysis, transfer related technologies to the private sector, and address the ethical, legal, and social issues (ELSI) that may arise from the project.
  • University of Cambridge
    The aim of CIMR is to provide a unique interface between basic and clinical science that underpins our major goal of determining and understanding the molecular mechanisms of disease.CIMR supports excellent basic research and encourages collaborations between research groups and across major research themes, which broadly encompass medical genetics, metabolic medicine, cell biology, immunology, developmental biology and structural biology.
  • Wellcome Trust, UK
    The Wellcome Trust is an independent research-funding charity, established under the will of Sir Henry Wellcome in 1936. It is funded from a private endowment, which is managed with long-term stability and growth in mind. Its mission is 'to foster and promote research with the aim of improving human and animal health'. To this end, it supports 'blue skies' research and applied clinical research. It also encourages the exploitation of research findings for medical benefit.
  • World Intellectual Property Organization
    The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is an international organization dedicated to promoting the use and protection of works of the human spirit. These works – intellectual property – are expanding the bounds of science and technology and enriching the world of the arts. Through its work, WIPO plays an important role in enhancing the quality and enjoyment of life, as well as creating real wealth for nations.
  • World Trade Organization
    The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the only global international organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations. At its heart are the WTO agreements, negotiated and signed by the bulk of the world’s trading nations and ratified in their parliaments. The goal is to help producers of goods and services, exporters, and importers conduct their business.

On line directories:

Reports and publications

  • Genetics, genomics and the patenting of DNA: Review of potential implications for health in developing countries
    Genetics, genomics and the patenting of DNA, addresses the important ethical, legal, social and health issues raised by the patenting of DNA sequences-- not only for the industrialized world, but also for developing countries. The report emphasizes that genomics has the potential to offer great benefit to public health on a global scale, notes the present ambiguity in international agreements on intellectual property rights on the legal status of genetic "inventions", and highlights the ongoing controversy surrounding the patenting of genetic sequences. Finally, acknowledging the present need for more empirical analysis of the scope and nature of the impact of current trends in patenting DNA, the report proposes areas of further exploration that could provide a foundation for the establishment of informed policies.
  • Keeping science open: the effects of intellectual property policy on the conduct of science, The Royal society, UK.
    This report considers whether the progress of science has been affected by the interpretation and use of IP policies, and makes recommendations for improvement
  • Science and Technology - Fourth Report, House of lords UK 2001
    This Report addresses the opportunities and challenges arising from the use of human genetic databases. These are set to become valuable tools in developing a full understanding of the effects of genes and their variations. Armed with such knowledge, we should see a revolution in health care-not only in treatment but also, and perhaps more significantly, in disease prevention.