WASHINGTON _ Calling it an issue of "faith vs. commerce,"Jeremy Rifkin on Wednesday called for a national debate on thedecision by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to permitpatenting of animal and human genes.

Rifkin, standing with six members of various religious faiths at apress conference here, also called on the PTO to impose a voluntarymoratorium on future biotech patents until Congress examines theethical and spiritual implications of gene patenting.

"By reducing all of life to the status of `human inventions,' the patentoffice has, in effect, challenged the age-old belief that life on earth isGod's creation," Rifkin said.

Both Gerald Mossinghoff, president of the Pharmaceutical Researchand Manufacturers of America and Carl Feldbaum, president of theBiotechnology Industry Organization, issued statements explainingthe critical relationship between patents and progress toward curesfor serious illnesses.

Also referring to the patent process, Henry Miller, currently aresearch fellow at the Hoover Institute, Stanford University, and aformer FDA policy advisor on biotechnology, told BioWorld that"patients need a societal mechanism to ensure the innovation anddevelopment of new therapeutic products."

Nobel Laureate Paul Berg, a clinical professor at Stanford Universityand director of the Beckman Center for Molecular and GeneticMedicine, told BioWorld that the issue of patenting a gene was"moot" because almost any laboratory can synthesize a stretch ofDNA.

"Clearly efforts to thwart the use of human genes for therapeuticpurposes will have serious consequences for the biotech industry,"Berg said.

The head of a major Parkinson's Disease patient organization issueda statement "warning against an `ill-thought out scare campaign' bysome religious organizations and an activist opponent ofbiotechnology." _ Michele L. Robinson

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