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Attack of the Clones


Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive-06-01-2002

Question: When does the Right mirror the Left?And they are. Answer: When they're both attacking the pharmaceutical industry.

Question: When does the Right mirror the Left?

Answer: When they're both attacking the pharmaceutical industry.

And they are.

Both sides of the political spread now contain active elements that invoke anti-industry sentiments for their populist propaganda. On the right, Arianna Huffington and Jerry Falwell take regular shots at pharma. With all the alacrity of their leftist cousins, the rightist demagogues throw out attack adjectives like "price-gouging" and "profit-hungry" to describe the industry.

But the issue that really unites the left and right camps is embryonic stem-cell research specifically, and the entire genomics revolution in general. Both believe the research creates a slippery slope down which humankind could quickly slide into some Frankensteinian horror. Thus, both base their arguments on various forms of reductio ad absurdum.

Not content just to talk, both camps have taken action-the Right, mostly through electoral politics; the Left, through litigation and other legal means. Long-time leftist Luddite Jeremy Rifkin and a compatriot recently filed for a US patent on an "invention" they call a humouse-a bioengineered half-human, half-mouse creature that, so far, exists only on paper. No doubt it always will. Rifkin et al hope thereby to force the US Patent Office into a logical trap.

If Rifkin wins his appeal against USPO's initial patent denial, he plans to exercise the patent by suing away at any related science as an "infringement." If he loses the appeal, he hopes to make the patent office raise the bar and disallow many other biotech patents on the same grounds. Either way, he figures, he might retard or even reverse progress in genomics. It seems self-evident that striking similarities exist between related Bush administration policies and Rifkin's "sanctity of life" case against genetic engineering of embryonic cells.

I know of no one likely or willing to create a humouse-or an army of clones, for that matter. But I do know plenty of people who would love to use genetic research to heal spinal-cord injury. If absurdity reigns, the research will languish, at least in the USA, crushed inside the two-fisted grip of its opponents on the Right and the Left. BIO-a respectable free-market industry advocate-has taken a clear stand against the attackers, while Washington-wed PhRMA stands mute.

I ask pharmaceutical executives everywhere to take a critical look at those who would short-change industry's future, whatever their political connections. Take a long, hard look-especially at the friendliest faces. Then act without delay to protect the most promising advancements ever to bless medical science. Industry's continued silence will only invite more, and more damaging, attacks.

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