Healthy technology

New guidelines agreed for the licensing of genetic inventions
OECD Observer

Biotechnology and genetics research have been the subject of extensive investment by both the public and private sectors, with a growing impact on healthcare. Advances in medical genetics promise faster, better, diagnosis as well as a new generation of targeted therapies.

Major applications include diagnostic tests for certain types of cancer and for genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s Disease, as well as therapies to treat diseases with a proven genetic component, including many metabolic diseases and types of cancer.

The possibilities are enormous, yet governments, patient groups and healthcare providers have become concerned about how certain genetic inventions have been licensed and exploited, particularly for diagnostic genetic services in human healthcare. A particular worry is that the patenting of genetic inventions and restrictive licensing of their use is reducing access to the benefits of the technology and discouraging new research.

In response to such concerns, the OECD member countries have adopted an agreed set of Guidelines for the Licensing of Genetic Inventions used in healthcare, in a move designed to help people benefit more widely from advances in genetics while making research and innovation faster and more efficient. By setting out principles and best practices for businesses, researchers and health systems that enter into license agreements for genetic inventions, the guidelines aim to encourage broad licensing and timely dissemination of biotechnological innovation.

The new guidelines were developed by a broad group of experts from diverse backgrounds and were subject to wide public consultation prior to adoption. They are not legally binding, but nevertheless represent an important political and moral commitment on the part of OECD countries to the future of healthcare. Governments have agreed to report back in four years time on progress in their diffusion and implementation of the guidelines.

The full text of the Guidelines for the Licensing of Genetic Inventions and additional information are available on the OECD web site at:

©OECD Observer No 254, March 2006

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