GeneWatch PR: Patenting Genes – Stifling Research and Jeopardising Healthcare

Embargoed until 00.01 Sunday 29th April 2001

Every day, new patents are being filed for discoveries about genetic material which are obstructing the progress of science and the development of new or cheaper treatments.

Published on the eve of the World Patent Summit in London, research by GeneWatch UK and Econexus shows that gene patents are already:

  • preventing or hindering development of new or improved medicines and treatments;
  • limiting access to healthcare by increasing the cost of diagnostics and treatment for certain diseases;
  • exploiting information and materials and inhibiting their free exchange between researchers;
  • involving unsuspecting parties in extensive and costly legal battles.

The research looks at the battles to control three important human genes - the breast cancer gene(s), the erythropoietin (EPO) gene crucial to blood production, and the AIDS virus receptor gene.

"Our research shows that public science is being hijacked. Companies are claiming to have invented discoveries about nature and are profiting unfairly from research about genes, much of which has taken place in universities," said Dr Ricarda Steinbrecher of Econexus. "For the best healthcare, discoveries about genes must be freely available, not just exclusively to profit the drug companies."

"Unless the Government takes action to outlaw the patenting of genes and gene sequences, we will find the whole genome has been privatised," said Dr Sue Mayer of GeneWatch UK. "Companies are getting greedy and the NHS could be bankrupted by having to pay royalties for gene tests and drugs."

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Full text of "Patenting Genes – Stifling Research and Jeopardising Healthcare"

For further information please contact:

Sue Mayer on 01298 871898

Ricarda Steinbrecher on 01273 625 173

Notes to editors:

  1. "Patenting Genes – Stifling Research and Jeopardising Healthcare" is published jointly by GeneWatch UK and Econexus. Available at
  2. The World Patent Summit is a conference for the pharmaceutical and biotech industries organised by IQPC on 30th April and 1st May at Heathrow, London.

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