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
Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation and Public Health (CIPIH)
Intellectual Property Law Web Server
The South Centre
The National Human Genome Research Institute, NIH, USA.
The US Department of Energy
University of Cambridge
Wellcome Trust, UK
World Intellectual Property Organization
World Trade Organization
On line directories:
- Intellectual Property, Bioethics, and Biotechnology Organizations, U.S Agencies and Bioethics Journals
- Organisations in Australia working on genetics and law