Trade, foreign policy, diplomacy and health

5. Genomics Knowledge

Halla Thorsteinsdottir, Abdallah S Daar, Richard D Smith, Peter A Singer

Potential costs & risks of genomics

  • Potential for ‘genomic divide’ between rich and poor
  • Of US$70 billion/year health research, 10% devoted to health problems of 90% of world’s population
  • Of 1,223 new drugs from 1975-1996, only 13 treated tropical disease
  • ‘Genomic divide’ will lead to health and economic inequalities, leading to political and social unrest
  • Vital that secure strategies to ensure benefits of genomics are universal

Potential for a 'genomic divide' between rich and poor nations:

There is a sizeable gap between spending on research and development (R&D) in developed and developing countries - capacity for researching local problems and/or transferring and absorbing scientific knowledge produced elsewhere is extremely limited in many developing countries. It has been estimated that globally the private and public sector spend around US$70 billion a year on health research, yet only 10% of those funds are devoted to the health problems of 90% of the worlds population. Multinational pharmaceutical companies do not research and develop medical products for developing countries because the latter cannot afford them. As a result, of the 1,223 new drugs introduced to the world market between 1975 and 1996, only 13 were aimed specifically at treating tropical diseases.

This suggests that developing counties may be severely disadvantaged through the 'genomic revolution' in health. This will result in the benefits of genomics being disproportionately directed to industrialised countries, with genome related research not addressing the health problems of the developing world. Such a 'genomic divide' will not only lead to widening health and economic inequalities between the industrialised countries and the developing world, but this in turn is likely to increase political and social unrest, with global consequences.

These problems highlight the need to secure approaches and strategies to ensure that the benefits of the genomics revolution are available to be shared by all.