Jowell warned on gene patenting

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The Independent Online
Tessa Jowell, the public health minister, has been warned by leading British geneticists that the Government's policy on gene patenting could cost the National Health Service millions of pounds - mostly payable in royalties to American and Canadian biotechnology companies.

The Council of Ministers meets today in Brussels to discuss the proposed European directive on biotechnology patenting. Nobody is yet sure whether the directive would allow companies to claim rights to individual human genes, rather than insisting that they must patent a new technique - such as a test using the gene. The US already allows companies to patent the DNA sequence of a gene - including human genes - outright.

The British government backs the directive as it stands. But Professor Andrew Read, chairman of the British Society for Human Genetics, says that Ms Jowell got it wrong when she said the directive would make little difference.

"I believe there are significant implications for the NHS and there is a need for strategic planning to cope with the predictable changes and avoid the risk of scandal," he said in a letter to the minister.