Letter: Patents and cures for genetic disease

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Sir: Your article on gene patents ("Medical charity in row over gene patents", 29 July) could mislead your readers into believing that there was much disagreement amongst medical research charities regarding patents on human genetic information. This is not true and it is important that you should make clear that the position of the Association of Medical Research Charities on gene patents is broadly similar to that of the Genetic Interest Group.

The AMRC represents nearly 100 medical research charities and 85 per cent of the registered charity expenditure on UK medical research (amounting to pounds 420m in 1996/7). The AMRC took almost 18 months to discuss and consult with its members on this very complex issue. As with many other organisations, there were initially many different points of view, but over time a clear consensus emerged. In April this year the AMRC published a statement which supported the proposal for a European directive on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions.

In common with many other groups the AMRC takes the view that gene sequences in themselves represent only discovery and not invention and therefore should not be patentable. But all inventions need sensible, non-bureaucratic and effectively enforced patent regulation if they are to be commercially developed. Biotechnology is no exception. It is important for patients that medical research leads to a better understanding and new treatments but for this to be achieved industry must be encouraged to invest to take forward the research that the charities have begun.

Potentially, many patients could benefit from the outcomes of genetics research: thus, the AMRC believes that commercial exploitation of genetic information is in the public interest if it creates new treatments which will improve human health.


General Secretary

Association of Medical Research Charities

London EC1