MEDIA WATCH: Gene privacy issue provokes differing media views

President Bill Clinton and British prime minister Tony Blair’s March 14 announcement of cooperation between the two countries on human genome mapping research created fear that the biotech industry was threatened by the move. News sources surveyed by CARMA International found the overwhelming media message was that Clinton and Blair said nothing threatening to the industry’s current intellectual property rights.

President Bill Clinton and British prime minister Tony Blair’s March 14 announcement of cooperation between the two countries on human genome mapping research created fear that the biotech industry was threatened by the move. News sources surveyed by CARMA International found the overwhelming media message was that Clinton and Blair said nothing threatening to the industry’s current intellectual property rights.

President Bill Clinton and British prime minister Tony Blair’s

March 14 announcement of cooperation between the two countries on human

genome mapping research created fear that the biotech industry was

threatened by the move. News sources surveyed by CARMA International

found the overwhelming media message was that Clinton and Blair said

nothing threatening to the industry’s current intellectual property

rights.



Among the articles reviewed by CARMA was one in The Washington Post,

which noted that ’Clinton and Blair asked for no new patent laws or

other changes that would significantly alter the rules for biotech

companies’ (March 15). A Canadian report quoted Arthur Caplan, director

of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, as

saying, ’The Clinton-Blair statement does not represent any change in

patent policy’ (Ottawa Citizen, March 15).



Media coverage also highlighted the two leaders’ message that private

companies should make their raw genome-mapping data publicly

available.



Biotech company leaders also said they supported such an effort,

including Celera Genomics head Craig Venter, who told CNN (March 14);

’Our motto has never been to keep it secret, so this is totally

consistent.’



Coverage also emphasized that Clinton and Blair actually supported

private companies patenting gene-based inventions. One report said

’Clinton and Blair ... tried to walk a fine line between reiterating

that the public labs should continue to make their gene maps freely

available, while endorsing the concept that companies could indeed

patent genes that led to development of specific drugs’ (San Francisco

Chronicle, March 15).



Another message repeated often in reports was that confusion (and a

furor) are arising at this time because society is on the verge of an

unparalleled scientific breakthrough. A Los Angeles Times (March 14)

article noted that ’cracking the code - the biochemical instructions in

a person’s cells - is widely considered a feat of the same magnitude as

smashing the atom or putting a man on the moon.’



The Washington Post (March 15), among others, noted that private

competition with government has sped up genome mapping efforts. ’Celera

Genomics ... appears on track to beat the government-run Human Genome

Project in publishing the first highly accurate version of the human

genetic code, probably this fall.’



A small portion of the coverage pressed the message that biotech

investors overreacted to the statement. The New York Times (March 15)

quoted Dr.



Roy Whitfield, chief executive of Incyte Pharmaceuticals, as saying,

’Investors failed to distinguish between genome sequences and gene

sequences.’ The San Francisco Chronicle (March 15) argued that White

House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart made comments that ’spooked investors

into thinking that the two world leaders were bent on changing the

policy on gene patents.’



While this week’s media coverage focused on the Clinton-Blair statement,

underlying themes CARMA sees arising in the near future include gene

privacy issues and further heightened debate between government and

private genome researchers.



- Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be

found at www.carma.com



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