Expanding the Ethical Frame of Reference
Associate Scientist, Lawson Health Research Institute, London, Ontario, Canada
Late in the year 2002, two Canadian announcements dramatized key issues in the development of the new genomic marketplace. In November, Canada’s Minister of Industry, whose department is responsible for much of the national government’s research expenditure, announced a “framework agreement” with the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. In return for commitments of additional federal funds for research, university presidents had agreed to double the amount of research performed by universities and triple their “commercialisation performance” by the year 2010.’ A few weeks later, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Harvard mouse or OncoMouse; the first genetically modified mammal to be patented in the United States, was not patentable subject matter in Canada.2 This ruling was greeted with consternation by at least some members of the biotechnology research community. The president of the University of Toronto’s Innovations Foundation, the university’s “Technology Opportunity Company,”3 was quoted as saying: “If you can’t patent it, you can’t make a company out of it, you just have to dump it into the public domain and you can’t get any investment.”4
These two events are connected by the expanding private sector role in financing medical and life sciences research,5-6 and the role played by intellectual property (IP) protection in attracting the private funds that universities and hospitals now regard as indispensable. Lost in much of the public debate about the Harvard mouse was the fact that E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. was entitled to an exclusive license on the mouse as part of
Bartha Maria Knoppers (ed.), Populations and Genetics: Legal and Socio-Ethical Perspectives. © 2003 Koninklijke Brill NV. Printed in the Netherlands.