WASHINGTON -- Sen. Mark Hatfield planned to introducelegislation today that would place a three-year moratorium onthe issuance of patents on all genetic materials.

The iconoclastic Republican's proposal has elicited a flurry ofactivity this week aimed at sidetracking the bill, a proposedamendment to the budget reauthorization of the NationalInstitutes of Health. A proposed compromise was not finalizedon Wednesday.

The legislation would impose a three-year moratorium onpatents for "human tissue, fluid, cell, gene or gene sequence(genetically engineered or otherwise)," as well as any "animalor animal organism (genetically engineered or otherwise)."

It also calls for the creation of "international standards relatingto the patenting of genetic information and access to suchinformation"; the appointment of a Biomedical Ethics AdvisoryCommittee; and the completion of several studies by thecommittee on patenting genetic material and the ethical andmoral implications of genetic engineering.

The amendment reflects the Oregon lawmaker's longstandingconcerns about the ethics and morality of patenting geneticmaterials, as well as his perception that Congress should takean active role in setting policy in this area, according to thelawmaker's office.

"The senator's position is that congressional oversight (of genepatents) is necessary and that the combination of themarketplace and the patent office are not sufficient," aspokesman said. He emphasized that Hatfield is not opposed togenetic engineering or biotechnology and that he stronglysupports biomedical research.

Sens. Albert Gore Jr., D-Tenn., Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., andEdward Kennedy, D-Mass., are working with Hatfield to puttogether a compromise under which Hatfield would withdrawthe amendment in exchange for well-publicized debate on theissues he has raised.

According to staff members in Hatfield's and DeConcini's offices,Hatfield has agreed to withdraw the amendment if DeConcini'spatent subcommittee of the Labor and Human ResourcesCommittee holds hearings on gene patents and thecongressional Office of Technology Assessment prepares astudy on the issues.

Dennis Burke, subcommittee counsel, told BioWorld that thehearings would probably be held in late summer or early fall.He said that DeConcini is opposed to the moratorium.

Richard Godown, president of the Industrial BiotechnologyAssociation, said the amendment "came up like a summerstorm" on Monday.

"At IBA's urging, Bush administration officials at theDepartment of Health and Human Services, the CommerceDepartment and the White House sent letters to senatorsopposing the amendment and arranged for a teleconference atthe regularly scheduled Tuesday lunch for Republicansenators," according to the IBA.

On Tuesday, Secretary of Health and Human Services LouisSullivan wrote Kennedy a letter opposing the amendment. The"moratorium would lead us to forfeit our lead in biotechnology,where patent rights are a key to the large investment neededfor product development," Sullivan wrote.

Hatfield has sponsored legislation banning or limiting thepatenting of transgenic animals in every congressional sessionsince 1987.

-- Steve Usdin BioWorld Washington Bureau

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