WASHINGTON -- A bill that would have imposed a two-yearmoratorium on animal patents "is in the Judiciary Committee,where it will die a slow death," a staffer for the bill's sponsor,Sen. Mark Hatfield, R-Ore., told BioWorld. "It never had anyaction there," the staffer lamented. "I don't know if anyone inCongress shares the senator's concerns on this issue."

"I'm rather pleased," David Winter, president and chiefoperating officer of GenPharm International Inc. of MountainView, Calif., told BioWorld upon hearing the news. "This willspeed up discovery while protecting the innovators."

GenPharm is working with transgenic mice to develop humanmonoclonal antibodies, and has developed transgenic cattle.

Carl Pinkert, editor of the journal Transgenic Research, andassociate professor of comparative medicine at the Universityof Alabama, Birmingham, viewed the news more cautiously. "Isthis the end of it, or will there be similar efforts?" he askedrhetorically, citing the clout of People for the Ethical Treatmentof Animals and the Humane Society.

Hatfield did not oppose animal patents per se, said the staffer,but he wanted time for ethical issues to be debated before thegenie was out of the bottle. But since 1988, when HarvardUniversity was awarded the first U.S. animal patent, there hasbeen plenty of time for such discussions, said Pinkert. Onlythree more animal patents have issued to date, including one toGenPharm early this year, for a transgenic mouse.

Hatfield has been resorting to other arenas to air ethical issuesraised by biotechnology. At his request the Senate LaborCommittee will hold hearings, probably in late summer, on abroad range of issues, such as the question of access toindividuals' genetic blueprints and the uses of suchinformation. But the hearing has not been scheduled becauseLabor Committee chairman Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., has beenpreoccupied with other issues, such as health care reform.

The release of a report by the Congressional Office ofTechnology Assessment, "Biomedical Ethics in U.S. PublicPolicy," probably will be timed to coincide with the hearing.

And the National Academy of Sciences is producing a report onissues in genetic testing, including insurance company access,ethical dilemmas related to autonomy and privacy, and qualitycontrol and availability of trained personnel for conductinggenetic tests.

Hatfield has also introduced legislation to create a nationalbioethics committee consisting of 15 members, five each chosenby the president, the Senate and the House of Representatives.

All this fresh air "is quite appropriate," Winter told BioWorld."The more discussion that goes on, the stronger our industrybecomes because I think we have a very compelling story."

Such discussions are also under way in Holland, said Winter,where GenPharm has inserted genes for certain human milkproteins into cattle in an effort to develop superior infantformula. Following much debate, earlier this year, the DutchParliament decided to allow GenPharm's Herman the bull, thefirst ever transgenic bovine, to breed.

-- David C. Holzman Washington Editor

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.

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