Letter: Biotech patents

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The Independent Online
Sir: Rather than blurring the lines between invention and discovery, as Norman Baker MP suggests (Genetic Patents letters, 15 May), the new directive on European biotech patents, recently approved by the European Parliament, gives Europe a clearly defined structure for decisions on patents. The directive does not "give the go-ahead for yet more experiments" in animals (or any other type of research). Permission to conduct animal research is regulated in the UK by the Home Office. The directive does have a number of areas specifically excluded from patentability, including uses of animals which cause suffering without substantial medical benefit.

Mr Baker says: "Now is the time to have a wider debate on genetic engineering." The European Union, the Commission, MEPs and many of its member citizens have been discussing this subject in the context of the draft directive for more than ten years. One of the outcomes of his debate is that the directive includes the provision for an ethical overview process that will consider ethical issues raised by all aspects of biotechnology. Furthermore, John Battle MP, Minister for Science, has recently initiated an extensive public consultation process into the new biotechnologies.

The development of modern diagnostics and medicines relies heavily on biotechnology. Without adequate patent protection, the investment and the 12 years it usually takes to develop a new medicine would be impossible to imagine. Patients now have good reason to hope that biotechnology can fulfil its promise to provide new and better medical treatments .

Dr JEFF KIPLING

Director, Science and Technology

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry

London SW1

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