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Greenpeace Prevents Patents on Pig-Human Embryos

Genetic Crossroads
October 16th, 2000


In early October, Greenpeace Germany exposed a patent application at
the European Patent Office (EPO) for embryos produced by putting human
DNA into pig eggs. The EPO then announced that it considered "certain
claims" in the application to be "contrary to morality." Shortly
thereafter, the two companies that had filed the patent application
said they would abandon it, and would no longer include human emryos
in their patents anywhere in the world.

The patent, filed by Massachusetts-based BioTransplant Inc. and Stem
Cell Sciences (Australia), covered the cloning of human embryos and of
mixed-species embryos from pigs, cows, sheep, and humans. It also
covered the genetic manipulation of those embryos. According to the
application, company scientists had already produced pig-human embryos.

The companies were presumably interested in non-reproductive cloning
for the purposes of producing tissue or organ transplants for patients
using their own cells, which would be immunologically compatible.
Greenpeace pointed out, however, that "[n]o specific concrete medical
reasons were given. . ..The experiments were performed mainly to
demonstrate that such nuclear transfer technology could be applied to
humans as well as animals, with the intention to then obtain a broad
patent on the technology used and on the embryos produced."

Greenpeace called for changing the European Union Patent Directive
to prohibit all patents on life. "The existing patenting regime is
the driving force behind a kind of speculative research in the rush
to claim ownership of new techniques," it said.

The Campaign Against Human Genetic Engineering, a British group,
condemned the patent application as "obscene." Coordinator Dr.
David King said, "These technologies are turning human life into
a commodity. Those who believe that genetic engineering of humans
is only a far-off threat should think again: companies are already
gearing up and intend to make monopoly profits in the process."

See <http://www.greenpeace.org/~geneng/highlights/pat/00_10_05a.htm>;
<http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~cahge>; <http://www.sunday-times.co.
uk/news/pages/sti/2000/10/08/stifgnaus01001.html
>.


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