The WHO recently made a report explaining new recommendations on human genome editing for the advance of public health, with information on the prohibitions and the measures in different countries that are being implemented to identify and arrest possible offenders. In this respect, a recent JAMA article entitled Governing Human Germline Editing Through Patent Law (August 30, 2021) written by American authorities on the matter, warns that despite the prohibitions of many governments and medical institutions, the risk continues to be present.
Germ line edition patent “The risk is not merely theoretical”
This risk, according to the authors, is not merely theoretical, since the possibility of medical tourism to countries where there are no prohibitions for this practice or are more permissive has not been foreseen. The article cites four countries as potential tourist destinations: Greece, Spain, Mexico and Ukraine. In this respect in 2019, we published an article on the intentions of Russian scientists to carry out this practice (see HERE).
Patents of techniques of germ line modification
The WHO report does not contemplate this risk, but the authors highlight as very relevant the proposal that this report makes to patent the techniques that allow modifying the human germ line, which would have the immediate effect of being able to identify and punish those who use them. The authors consider this measure as a relatively efficient instrument to avoid the referred medical tourism.
Although international patent legislation for certain techniques is not rigorously applied in certain countries, in the United States there is a strong movement to promote the patenting of this specific technique, which has already been done with certain techniques that use CRISPR, but not those that modify the germline.
Among the conclusions of the article, we highlight the call made by these specialists to the European Patent Organization to suppress what is called public order exception (#) “which has not been effective in prohibiting unethical research and commercialization of new technologies, both germline editing and others. “
From a bioethical perspective, we believe that the risks of new gene-editing techniques that modify the germline of the embryo and other unethical practices will not be eliminated without an independent international body that had the authority to intervene in any country, identifying and penalizing unethical genetic practices. Will our countries be willing to create a binding international body to avoid the risks of experiments that could affect the world population itself?
(#) “Public order exception” in the specific language of the European Patent Office, and of other countries, means that patents cannot be given to ethically controversial technologies, such as the eventual germ line patent edition of the human genome.