GENTECH archive


Alarm at U.S. Companies Draining China's Gene Pool

>Content-Location: "
>	/sandt/generev.htm"                   
>    A report from U.S. Embassy Beijing April 1997    Summary: Chinese
>government officials and scholars have long been  concerned that foreign
>research making use of Chinese human genome diversity  will result in
>serious intellectual property losses for China. UNESCO sponsored  a
>November 1994 Beijing conference, part of the North-South dialogue, to 
>examine the issue. Chinese geneticists at the November 1996 Chinese Academy
> of Sciences meeting at Xiangshan outside Beijing warned that China faces 
>a ëgene drainí and even foreign theft of Chinese genetic
>resources  by foreigners who take advantage of incomplete Chinese
>regulations. A March  11 medical journal article on the gene drain facing
>China has been picked  up by many Chinese news organizations. While the
>issue of foreign use of  Chinese gene resources related to nationalist
>sentiment and to the feeling  among hard-pressed Chinese researchers that
>their U.S. counterparts are  a rich source of funds, Embassy has found that
>Chinese researchers who  have excellent relations with American
>counterparts find this to be an  issue of deep concern. The State Science
>and Technology Commission told  the Embassy that the SSTC and the Ministry
>of Health are now drafting regulations  to govern the commercial
>exploitation of the human genome in China in order  to protect Chinese
>intellectual property rights in this area. End summary    Geneticists Tell
>CAS Conference Genetic Patrimony at Risk 
>    At the November 1996 Xiangshan Scientific Conference, the highest forum
> of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Chinese geneticists warned that China 
>must not allow its human genome resources to drain away to foreign
>countries  or to be grabbed by foreigners for their own use. The
>geneticists called  for Chinese scientists to join in the ìbattle of
>the centuryî""    Journal Article On Plan to Sample 200 Million
>    A March 11 article in the Journal of Academy of Chinese Medical
>Sciences  [Zhongguo Yixue Kexueyuan Yuanbao] warned that China faces the
>prospect  that the genes of hundreds of millions of its people may become
>the priceless  resources of foreign pharmaceutical companies. The Journal,
>referring to  a story in the July 9, 1996 issue of Science magazine,
>reported that a  drug company-supported research program involving Harvard
>University researchers  and six Chinese medical centers will sample the
>blood and genes of 200  million Chinese people. Unless measures are taken,
>these resources will  be incorporated into foreign products without
>bringing any benefit to the  Chinese people who furnished the genetic
>resources.     Chinese News Media Rings Alarm About Gene Drain
>    "Losing Tomorrowí" decried foreign companies  who are grabbing
>valuable Chinese human genome resources for their own  use. Subjects are
>paid $1 or less for blood samples and are ignorant of  how valuable their
>genes are.    China Must Protect Gene Resources Now or Will Miss Out 
>    A Jiankang Bao [Health Daily] April 17 front page article
>ìProtect  Our Countryís Human Genome Resourcesî,
>translated below, in  a calmer but still polemical tone reported CAS
>Chinese Academy of Medical  Sciences Prof. Qiang Boqinís call for
>legislation to protect Chinaí"", a mass circulation  digest
>magazine, reprints a February 4 China Youth Daily interview entitled 
>ìBattle of the Centuryî with Chinese Genome Project
>Secretary-General  Yang Huanming [2799 3562 2494]. Yang concludes the
>interview ì""    BMI-CAPM Gene Contract: 1 Percent of Sales to PRC
>    According to the Beijing Youth Daily Weekend article, a person involved
> with the project at the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine (CAPM) told
> the Daily that this is just a mutually beneficial research project with 
>no patents involved. However, the reporter found in a report of the
>collaboration  between CAPM and the U.S. company BMI that the CAPM will
>share 1 percent  of sales outside China arising from patents growing out of
>the collaboration  but the CAPM share may not exceed US$1 million per year.
>An additional  provision gives CAPM 1.75 percent of sales within China up
>to another US$1  million dollars per yearî. The Beijing Youth Daily
>reporter considers  this proof that valuable Chinese genes are being
>transferred to U.S. corporate  research labs for a derisory sum. The
>Beijing Youth Daily article also  notes that the first foreign researchers
>to do human genome research in  China were from a tumor research laboratory
>in Philadelphia, PA. Since  then, French and German scientists have also
>begun human genome research  in China.     Academician Qiang Boqin on
>Protecting PRC Gene Resources
>    In the April 17, 1997 front page article in Chinaís Jiankang 
>Bao [Health Daily] newspaper, Professor Qiang Boqin of the Chinese Academy 
>of Medical Sciences made a strong appeal for the protection of
>Chinaís  human genome resources. Prof. Qiang is chief scientist on
>the advisory  committee to the State Science and Technology Commission on
>the 863 Plan  to promote high technology. In Prof. Qiang's view, U.S.
>companies are exploiting  Chinese genetic resources without providing
>adequate protection or compensation.      U.S. Researchers, Companies Mine
>Chinese Human Genome
>    Prof. Qiang charged that Chinese-American researchers and another
>American  researcher have been visiting several times a year an area of
>Shanxi Province  that has a high rate of esophagus cancer. The researchers
>collected family  records and specimens of both esophagus cancer and
>gastric cancer at very  low prices and bought cancer patient medical
>records from local hospitals.  The American researchers asked for
>pathological sections removed during  operations, extracted DNA samples
>from the specimens and then took these  samples out of the country
>illegally, said Prof. Qiang. [COMMENT: While  Chinese regulations do not
>address this type of research, Chinese regulations  often do specify that
>samples stay in China while copies of data based  on tests of the samples
>may leave the country. END COMMENT] The researchers  are said to have
>collected specimens of 600 cases thus far and plan to  collect another 1400
>samples from esophagus cancer families from that area  during 1997, said
>Prof. Qiang.     Hunting Genes for Diabetes, Asthma at Rock Bottom Prices
>    Prof. Boqin, in the Health Daily article, said that the gene drain from
> China has become a very serious problem in recent years. A foreign
>research  institute purchased type II diabetes records at US $50 per case
>then used  the information to find the location of the gene for asthma in
>some areas  of China based on check-ups by local Chinese hospitals. In
>another case,  an American company, after finding the location of the gene
>for asthma,  announced that its data came from a big family affected by
>asthma in southern  China. In July, 1996 the U.S. magazine Science reported
>on a cooperative  project on identifying disease genes between Harvard
>University and China.  According to the article, many pharmaceutical
>companies are providing economic  support totaling US $10 million for the
>project. The project will involve  cooperation with six Chinese medical
>centers and obtaining blood and DNA  samples for 200 million people. The
>research project will cover almost  all known diseases such as asthma,
>hypertension, obesity, schizophrenia,  and many contagious diseases. This
>project has attracted considerable attention  throughout the world,
>according to Prof. Qiang.     Drug Companies in Worldwide Gene Patent War 
>    Prof. Qiang further explained that the completion of the Human Genome 
>Project initiated in the 1980s will have an enormous impact on the
>development  of the medical sciences and reveal the mystery of life. One of
>the major  project goals has been disclose new genes and to identify and
>separate  disease-related genes. The project will provide new means for
>disease prevention  and pharmaceutical development. The enormous investment
>in the project  will certainly produce similarly enormous payoffs. This is
>why some many  pharmaceutical factories and companies have joined battle in
>a ëgene  patent warí to grab human genome resources worldwide. 
>  China is Especially Rich in Human Genome Resources 
>    &T ìbig  powersî [lieqiang] [COMMENT: The word lieqiang
>[0441 1730] used in  the article, is an obsolete word for ìbig
>powersî is used.  This word generally refers to the big capitalist
>powers the Chinese see  as having subjugated their country in the late 19th
>century. END COMMENT]  have come to China one after another in search of
>valuable family lines  in which genetic diseases can be found in the
>Chinese human genome treasure  house.     Chinese Lose Gene Intellectual
>Property Rights, Profits
>    Prof. Qiang warned in the Health Daily article that many grassroots 
>medical units and clinicians who either do not fully understand the value 
>of Chinese human genome resources or are blinded by greed are taken
>advantage  of by foreign companies. Much valuable data about genetic
>diseases in Chinese  family lines has already flowed overseas through a
>variety of channels.  All this happens without the Chinese side raising the
>issue of Chinese  intellectual property rights and sharing profits from
>patents, said Prof.  Qiang.    Human Genome Challenge for China
>    Prof. Qiang said that there are now about 1200 patents on human genes 
>worldwide. China faces grave challenges in the pharmaceutical industry, 
>medical care and disease prevention. China in the Twenty-First Century 
>will pay a high price for medical care, especially for genetically
>engineering  products which are controlled by others. Prof. Qiang said that
>as chief  scientist on the expert committee to advise the SSTC 863 Plan
>(high technology  promotion project), he warns that China faces a serious
>situation. In response,  the 863 Plan has made research in the separation,
>cloning, structure, and  function of genes and the acceleration in the
>collection of data on Chinaís  human genome resources a high
>priority item.     Human Gene Resources are the Patrimony of All Mankind
>    Prof. Qiang Boqing emphasized that human genome resources are the
>common  patrimony of all mankind. He advocates international cooperation
>carried  out on the basis of equal benefit, joint participation, and
>sharing of  the fruits of research. He opposed those foreigners who
>secretly purchase  gene resources cheaply in China and then illegally
>smuggle them out of  the country. He appealed to local hospitals and
>medical staff to boycott  such unfair purchases and to protect Chinese
>human genome resources. To  tackle the problem of the illegal gene drain,
>responsible Chinese government  departments should pay special attention to
>this problem, stop illegal  activities and educate the public. Funding
>support should be increased  to ensure that research and development of
>important family gene resources  stays under the control of government
>departments. The government should  ensure that international cooperation
>is based on respect for Chinese intellectual  property rights and results
>in equal benefit for the Chinese and foreign  parties concluded Prof.
>Qiang.     Chinaís Human Genome Project
>    The Chinese Human Genome research program began in November 1993. Key 
>researchers in the Chinese human genome effort have been Du Ruofuo of the 
>CAS Institute of Genetics, Chen Zhu of the Shanghai No. 2 Medical
>University  and Qiang Boqin [1730 0130 0530] of the CAS Basic Research
>Institute. Together  with Prof. Chen Zhu of Shanghai No. 2 Medical
>University, Prof. Qiang leads  the National Science Foundation of China
>(NSFC) key project ìStudy  of Chinese Ethnic Group Key Locii and
>Gene Structures Related to Major  Diseases in Chinaî. Prof. Qiang
>Boqin has been studying the genetic  structure of Han and ethnic minorities
>in China for 15 years and has published  over 90 papers on the genetic
>polymorphism of blood groups, red cell enzymes,  and serum proteins. The
>Chinese genome project is especially interested  in determining the types
>and incidences of genetic diseases and to preserve  each ethnic
>groupís genetic materials. Collection and preservation  are now
>especially urgent since rapid Chinese economic development has  brought
>with it considerable migration between the countryside and cities.  One of
>the results is more intermarriage and dilution of the unique genetic 
>material of Chinaís minority ethnic groups.     Human Genome Issues
>Not New to China -- At Nov. ë94 Meeting Genome  Ethics, Profits
>Already North-South Issue 
>    The UNESCO sponsored conference of November '94 on the human genome 
>brought together world experts on human genome research with their Chinese 
>counterparts to help bridge the North-South divide on the human genome 
>exploitation issue and to encourage international cooperation with Chinese 
>researchers.     Comment: Human Gene IPR Concerns Widespread
>    Officials at the Bio-Tech department of the Chinese National Science 
>Foundation as well as researchers at Beijing Medical University, some of 
>whom have had successful cooperation projects with U.S., told us that they 
>have great concern over the human genome intellectual property rights
>issue.      SSTC and Ministry of Health Drafting Gene Resource Rules 
>    An official in the SSTCís Biotech Department told us that China 
>now has no law to protect gene resources nor does it have regulations
>related  to international cooperation in this field that would ensure that
>collaboration  between Chinese and foreign researchers in this field is
>fair. The official  told us that the SSTC and the Ministry of Health are
>drafting regulations  to strengthen the management of human genetic
>materials, to prevent a gene  drain to foreign countries, and to safeguard
>legitimate Chinese interests.      Stealing Chinese Genes... or Just
>Hunting? Views Differ 
>    Although all the Chinese scientists and officials we spoke with are 
>concerned about human genome exploitation and patenting, the difference  in
>the words they use to discuss the matter reveal subtle differences in 
>their views. The range of verbs used to describe the actions of the Western
> researchers supported by drug companies ranged from steal (qiang)
>[STC:2293],  to grab for oneself (lueduo) [STC: 2230 1161], to hunting
>(liequ) [STC:  3756, 0648]. Prof. Boqiangís Health Daily and the
>Beijing Youth  Daily used ëgrab for oneselfí"""""". Thus,  in
>the language, just below the surface lies a considerable range of Chinese 
>views on this issue.             Return to Top     This site is hosted by
>Global Business Development Network