Letter: Biotech patents hamper research

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Sir: Your article "The mouse that roared" (4 June) exposes the tip of an iceberg that is floating ominously into European waters, but one that we still have an opportunity to redirect.

The umbilical cord patent granted to Biocyte is one example of a growing trend by companies and universities now trying to patent cells, genetic sequences, plants, animals and human body parts which will have far reaching implications.

At least the patent granted to Biocyte Corporation can be challenged. However, if the directive on biotechnological inventions which is currently being considered by the European Parliament has its way, then it will be much more difficult to challenge this sort of ruling.

Monsanto has patented a soya bean seed that could in effect prevent other companies or NGOs working on soya bean seeds.

Du Pont has patented the onco-mouse - an important breakthrough in cancer treatment - in such a way that all similar work on any mammals or rodents will be barred.

Myriad Corporation have applied for a European patent on a linked breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility gene. This, if granted, would gain them control over all possible diagnostic and therapeutic applications of this gene. All cures for breast cancer would either have to be licensed by Myriad or royalties made payable to them.

The patent holder would have the power, for 20 years, to decide whether to allow further research and development, licensing the results. Or it would be able to deny the opportunity for any further work.

This patenting of the essence of life itself must not be allowed to pass unchallenged. The European Commission's proposals should be challenged by writing to MEPs.

SAM CLARKE

Oxford

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