BIOTECHNOLOGY: 7,000 Gather For Boston Symposium
More than 7,000 leaders in the biotechnology industry gathered yesterday in Boston to kick off the five-day Bio2000 symposium, which will feature 150 seminars and workshops to address a myriad of subjects, such as the "latest developments in engineering genes to produce life-saving medicines, pest-resistant foods and animal organs suitable for human transplantation," the Boston Globe reports. Other topics up for consideration this week include: how to improve the safety of human gene research in light of recent deaths of trial patients; whether private companies should have the right to patent or control their research in decoding the human genome, "which could lead to treatments for diseases and prevention of birth defects"; and the use of the Internet as a "vehicle for sharing and publicizing genetic research." Among the scheduled symposium speakers is Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who today will address the future of biopharmaceuticals and the "power of the 'life sciences' as a source of medical breakthroughs." Kennedy aides say he will stress the "imperative to guarantee that all Americans share in the bounty of good health and long life that scientific advances will make possible." Movie actor Christopher Reeve will also visit the convention today to "highlight the possible role of genetic research in regenerating damaged spinal cord cells." Janice Bourque, executive director of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, said, "The theme of this whole meeting is that biotechnology works today, whether it's cures for patients who suffer from disease, creating jobs and investment or finding new solutions in agriculture and the environment. Just about any aspect of your life will be touched by this technology" (Howe, 3/26).
Toby Kiers, a soil scientist from Maine who opposes the genetic engineering of foods, agreed, noting, "This issue affects every aspect of our lives. What we eat, what we know, what we control. It's an issue that is nothing short of crucial to everyone, if they know it or not" (Lewis, Boston Globe, 3/26). Kiers and about 1,500 others protested the symposium yesterday, marching through downtown Boston to the convention site, where they shouted "Shame on you!" at gathered scientists (Goldberg, New York Times, 3/27). Demonstrators say the industry is "hurtling ahead with too little U.S. government oversight as it introduces untested food to the American diet, medical procedures that could unleash disease or a quest for 'designer babies' created in labs and inter-species genetic manipulation." Brian Tokar of the Institute for Social Ecology and organizer of BioDevastation 2000 said, "The biotechnology industry is making decisions that affect all life on Earth and they're doing it behind closed doors in board rooms where the only motivation is profit." But Borque defended the field, arguing, "A lot of people say we don't discuss these issues, but that's not true. We think this technology is pretty wonderful, but we realize it has responsibilities that go with it, and we're openly talking and addressing those issues, including at this conference." Added Carl Feldbaum, president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, "Public understanding is not high. ... The industry has to do a lot more. It's only part of the equation, but the industry has to do what it can to educate, because public awareness is critical to moving this industry forward" (Howe, Boston Globe, 3/26).