Social Issues Related To Gene Patenting in Latin America: A Bioethical Reflection

Social Issues Related To Gene Patenting in Latin America: A Bioethical Reflection

Eduardo Rodriguez (University of Chile, Chile) and Fernando Lolas (Pan American Health Organization / World Health Organization, Chile)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61692-883-4.ch011
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The chapter reports on the experiences of both experts and lay people on the level of knowledge and social representations of genomic research and its applications in a number of Latin American developing countries. Issues discussed include access to prevention and therapeutic methods related to genomic medicine in Latin America, risks associated to genetic modifications in humans, lack of equity in the access to health benefits, control by biotechnological companies, commercialization of gene sequences through patents which leads to commercial exploitation of underdeveloped countries, among others
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Advances In Genomic Research In Latin America

In general, there is an impression that Latin American countries are not prepared to respond to the explosive development of genomics and genetic engineering which has taken place in developed countries. There is little interest in most Latin American governments for research in this area since they believe that other priorities are more important. As a result, Latin American countries act mostly as consumers with the added problem of the little information that lay civilians possess. There is also lack of legal norms to regulate this field in general. This contributes to the generation of certain anxiety since there are fears that certain issues raise by the expansion of genomic research could be manipulated and used for the interest of a few.

In general, developing countries are left behind in biotechnology and genomic medicine development, but there are some exceptions at Latin America such as Brazil, Cuba, Argentina and Mexico in the development of genomics. Cuba has linked biotechnology to its health care sector. Brazil represents the biggest market at Latin America. Argentina is moving towards being a force at Latin America in transgenic market. Mexico has recognized the potential for genomics in addressing public health issues.

Brazil has 71 biotechnological companies, most working on transgenics and some have developed genetically engineered health care products, such as insulin, vaccines, kits for diagnosis and immunization; since 1998 the Human Genome Project for Cancer has been functioning under the sponsorship of Ludwig Institute of the United States and the Foundation for Research Protection at Sao Paulo (Fundación de Amparo a la Investigación del Estado de Sao Paulo―FAPESP) (Bisang et al., 2009, p. 73-74). Brazil has created the Genomic Institution ONSA in 1997 uniting several laboratories. The first development was sequencing the first Latin American microbial genome, the bacteria Xylella fastidios (Simpson et al., 2000). Furthermore, several projects have been initiated which link universities and research institutions with regional agriculture and health problems. Examples are: the sequencing of Chromobacterium violaceum, a human pathogen; the sequencing of Herbaspirillum seropedicae of farm value; the sequencing of RNA transcripts of human cancers; and the sequencing of RNA transcripts of the disease caused by Leishmania chagasi (Simpson, 2001).

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