HUMAN GENE MAP: Public-Private Alliance Efforts Flag
The "[b]ehind-the-scenes negotiations" to merge the private and public efforts to unravel the human genetic code have virtually collapsed, the Washington Post reports. Representatives of the National Human Genome Research Institute, the leading public agency in the international effort, and for-profit firm Celera Genomics Corp. of Rockville, Md., hoped to reach an accord that would merge the two entities, and might have resulted in a "top-notch, virtually complete map of human genes by late this year." The talks appear to have floundered because of major disagreements about "commercial use of the gene database." According to the Washington Post, the final blow came yesterday, when Wellcome Trust, a large British charity involved in financing gene research, released a copy of a letter from public negotiators to Celera President J. Craig Venter. According to the letter dated Feb. 28, public researchers were amenable to some restrictions on commercial use of the data, for up to a year, whereas Celera wanted restrictions to end in 2005. Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute and principal author of the letter, said Celera's proposal would "hurt other biotech companies pursuing disease research." Celera is spending "hundreds of millions of dollars" on gene research and has become a "Wall Street darling" because of its lead over other biotech companies. The letter, which sets a deadline of today for Celera to respond to the outline of the negotiations, was viewed by Venter as "an effort to pressure him." He said, "I'm sort of disgusted that they would send us this threatening 'confidential' letter with a time deadline on it, then fax it to the press." Venter added, "I don't even know what to make of it. It's such a low-life thing to do." Of the negotiations, Collins said, "This was not set up to fail. This was set up to succeed." He added, "It was disappointing, to be honest, that it didn't turn out that way. I went way out on a limb to try to convince some of the more reluctant parties that this was worth pursuing" (Gillis, 3/6).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.