GeneWatch UK today responded to misleading claims that sequencing the human genome had delivered billions of dollars in benefits to the USA. The claims come from a report sponsored by Life Technologies, a leading gene sequencing company (1). The authors count jobs and money spent on gene sequencing (i.e. on Life Technologies' own technologies and services) as a benefit to the economy: although other economists have pointed out that sequencing is really a cost to taxpayers (via science budgets) and to research-based businesses (2).
"The Human Genome Project led to some exciting science" said Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK "But it has not led to the promised revolution in healthcare. There is always jam tomorrow, but never jam today. Sequencing everything that moves is not the same as preventing people getting sick or finding useful treatments".
Today's report predicts that sequencing of people's entire genomes will be routine in the future, despite the poor predictive value of such tests for most diseases and drug reactions. It also claims that sequencing technologies will deliver new drug targets, significant improvements in agriculture, industrial chemicals and biofuels, and help to tackle crime. In the small print inside the cover the report states: "Certain technologies discussed in this report have not received regulatory approval or clearance for clinical uses. In this regard, sequencers are currently intended for research or investigational uses".
"This report looks like a begging bowl to get more taxpayers' money poured into genome sequencing: it smacks of desperation from a company which knows there are going to be cuts" said Dr Wallace. "Whilst some genetic science is important, too much money has been spent on the basis of misleading claims made by people with vested interests in promoting this technology. The expected bonanza of new drug targets has not been delivered and genetic testing cannot predict most diseases or adverse drug reactions in most people. Policy makers would be wiser to shift priorities elsewhere if they really want to solve the problems that we face".
GeneWatch UK published a report last year about investments in human and agricultural genetics, focusing on the UK and EU. The report highlights how little has been delivered despite massive public investments in genetic technologies and how vested interests have promoted genetic approaches to solving problems as diverse as hunger and obesity, rather than more effective alternatives (3).
For further information contact:
Wallace: 01298-24300 (office); 07903-311584 (mobile).
Notes for Editors
(1) Economic Impact of the Human Genome. Prepared by Battelle Technology Partnership Practice. May 2011 On: http://www.battelle.org/publications/humangenomeproject.pdf
(2) Nature News: http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110510/full/news.2011.281.html
(3) Bioscience for Life? GeneWatch UK. 2010. On: http://www.genewatch.org/uploads/f03c6d66a9b354535738483c1c3d49e4/Bioscience_for_life.pdf