NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Clarifying Human Genome Ownership

March 16, 2000

J. Craig Venter is out to prove that his company, Celera, can decode the human genome faster and more cheaply than American and British researchers can using public money. Venter is unapologetic about his motives -- he wants to exploit the genome for profit.

But there is confusion in some people's minds as to how he would do that.

  • Venter intends to make public all the raw data collected by his company as soon as his project is completed.
  • To make money, he hopes to sell the powerful software and supercomputing services that will make the raw data understandable and useful for making drugs and therapies.
  • The many pharmaceutical and biotech companies that are not mapping the genome reportedly do not want to pay for the raw genome data or the ability to understand it -- they favor the government-subsidized British-American consortium, the nonprofit Wellcome Trust.
  • Critics point out that while the pharmaceutical companies object to Venter's plans, they do not object to patenting the use of genes in creating drugs or therapies.

Those who see no harm in profit contend that in no other area of business would there be a debate over the right of a company to control and profit from the packaging of information it discovered and made publicly available.

Source: Lee Silver (Princeton University), "Who Owns the Human Genome?" New York Times, March 16, 2000.


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