- WASHINGTON (AFP) -Leaders
of competing public and private projects to map out the human genetic code
are expected to announce Monday that they have, by and large, completed
- Private company Celera Genomics said in a statement Friday
that it would make next week's joint announcement together with the publicly-funded
Human Genome Project, the consortium which has been its main competitor
in the race to sequence and map more than three billion units of human
- A press conference on the results of the two groups'
decoding work is set for 12:30 p.m. (1630 GMT) Monday at a Washington hotel,
the statement from the Rockville, Maryland based firm said.
- Scientists expect the breakthrough will ultimately revolutionize
the way drugs are made and diseases are treated, because knowing a gene's
sequence can make it easier to learn how they cause or prevent disease.
- US President Bill Clinton, speaking in anticipation of
the announcement, said "the whole landscape of health care" will
be changed forever by decoding the human genetic pattern.
- Celera will announce "the first assembly of the
human genome," the statement said, while the international consortium
"will announce a working draft of the human genome."
- The two groups have been racing to finish the map of
the human genome first, each using different methods.
- Earlier Friday, a spokesman for the British participant
in the international consortium said the five countries involved in the
project -- Britain, China, France, Japan and the United States -- would
announce their results Monday.
- "We are part of a global announcement on Monday.
Everybody is saying the same thing on the same day," said Chris Mihill,
a spokesman for the Wellcome Trust, the medical research organisation sponsoring
the scientific work at Cambridge University's Sanger Centre in southeastern
- Each country will announce results on its designated
part of the map which as a whole will make up a human genetic identity
card, he said.
- Two months ago Celera Genomics president Craig Venter
announced that his group had achieved the sequencing of the more than three
billion DNA letters in the humane genome.
- But the next stage, and the subject of the reported announcement
next week, will be sequencing of the letters in order, to create a rough
map of the entire human genome.
- The joint announcement is the result of months of delicate
talks to bring an end to the fierce rivalry between the public and private
groups, bent on realizing what is billed as one of the biggest scientific
achievements of the century.
- Financed since 1990 by 18 nations, the Human Genome Project
makes its discoveries available to researchers for free, while Celera Genomics,
founded as a commercial enterprise in 1998, plans to sell genome discoveries
to academics and industry.
- The mapping of the genome is an initial step opening
the way for further research to identify the estimated 30,000 to 150,000
genes contained on each of the 23 pairs of chromosomes.
- 'Book Of Life' Holds Tantalising Rewards In Medicine
- PARIS (AFP) - The anouncement due Monday of the completion
of a rough draft of the human genetic code is a landmark in a medical revolution
over the next century that will greatly extend our lifespan but at unknown
- Twenty years from now, dozens of dreaded ailments may
join plague, smallpox, cholera and pneumonia on the list of monsters slewn
by the sword of science.
- "The genome will be the basis for the medicine of
the future," predicts Craig Venter, a maverick US entrepreneur whose
firm, Celera Genomics, had been racing against the Human Genome Project,
the public-sector consortium in a bid to be first to announce the draft.
- Biotech engineers in North America and Europe are already
embroiled in a multi-billion-dollar race to extract gold from the gene
- Their goal is to identify, block or repair flawed genes
whose malfunctioning control over proteins -- the molecule that creates
and maintains cells -- causes sickness.
- Their prime targets: the genes which cause hereditary
forms of cancer, diabetes, AIDS, Alzheimer's, Huntington's and Parkinson's
disease, cardiovascular disease, baldness, obesity, asthma, psoriasis,
deafness, epilepsy and migraine.
- A long road may lie ahead before any therapy or vaccine
for any of these diseases will emerge -- and it will be even longer before
researchers attain another cherished goal, of tailoring drugs to the individual
in order to eliminate side effects.
- More immediately, genetic data will be used as a diagnostic
- A decade or so from now, patients may go to the doctor
with a "DNA chip," a credit-card-sized piece of plastic that
will contain their genetic background, disclosing conditions to which they
may be vulnerable and which medication could trigger an allergy.
- There is already a test to help people suffering from
haemochromatosis, an inherited condition that causes iron levels to build
up in the blood, to adjust their diet and avoid the worst symptoms.
- Other tests in the pipeline will forewarn people with
a genetic predisposition to cancer or heart disease, conditions that can
be triggered or worsened by smoking or fatty foods.
- The main approach of researchers is to devise a medicine
that will disable or block proteins that cause harm.
- Other tactics focus on knocking out the flawed gene that
caused the problem in the first place and replacing it with a normal gene,
which would be spread around by the body by hiding it inside a disarmed
- Gene therapy was first attempted in 1980, but has had
- There was a glittering success last April, when French
doctors announced a treatment enabling "bubble" children -- infants
born with a crippling weakness of the immune system -- to leave their sterile
plastic bubble and live a normal life.
- But there have also been setbacks, including a death
in a US experiment, that have raised doubts about the present state of
- Some diseases are caused by complex interactions between
faults in several genes and so cannot be tackled by a simplistic "knock-out"
- And a gene which is replaced because it causes a problem
in some area may have other, unknown functions that could be advantageous.
- In many people's eyes, genetic knowledge may generate
as many problems as it resolves.
- Fears have been expressed that screening techniques or
engineering will create "designer" children for the rich or eliminate
characteristics perceived as deviating from the norm, such as homosexuality.
- And there are also many unresolved ethical questions,
such as to whether someone has the right to patent something that occurs
in the human body, and whether employers or health-insurance companies
should have the right to one's genetic data. _____
- France Slams US Genetic Firm Over Patenting Plans
- PARIS, June 23 (AFP) - French Research Minister Roger-Gerard
Schwartzenberg on Friday slammed a US biotechnology firm involved in the
race, due to climax on Monday, to draw up the first draft of the human
- Speaking at a meeting in Bordeaux of experts from the
world's leading biotech countries, Schwartzenberg sharply criticised Celera
Genomics of Rockville, Maryland for filing thousands of applications to
patent segments of basic genetic data.
- "The raw data of the human genetic sequence must
be placed in the public domain. They have to be freely accessible to scientists
around the world," said Schwartzenberg.
- "The human genome is humanity's common legacy. Its
knowledge cannot be expropriated by a few, it belongs to all.
- "The claims of privately owned American research
organisations such as Celera Genomics for patenting raw sequences of the
human genome are morally unacceptable. They are also legally unacceptable,"
he added. "A mere discovery is not patentable."
- Celera Genomics was launched in 1998 by an entrepreneurial
scientist, Craig Venter to rival an international public-sector consortium,
the Human Genome Project (HGP), in the bid to decipher the more than three
billion letters that make up the human genome -- the chemical code, imbedded
in our chromosomes, for making, operating and repairing the human body.
- The race is due to end on Monday with the announcement
by the HGP that it has achieved a working draft of the genome.
- In recent weeks, Celera has appeared to be ahead in the
race yet also to want to end hostilities with its public-sector counterpart.
It may join the announcement, so that the glory is shared, according to
a US media report.
- Celera has previously been bitterly attacked by HGP scientists,
led by John Sulston of Britain's Sanger Centre, who says it is unconscionable,
as well as hugely discouraging for medical researchers, to patent humanity's
- In reply, Celera says that it has only filed applications
as precautionary step and notes that it is merely following the approach
of many other biotech firms that are also deciphering genetic data.
- It says it will sell applications and research deriving
from the data, as compared with the raw data itself, to other researchers
and the pharmaceutical business.
- The HGP, for its part, immediately puts on its websites
the data as it comes off its computers, meaning that they are in the public
domain for all to use freely.
- Schwartzenberg strongly defended patents for drugs or
inventions that derived from genomic data.
- Legal protection is a key incentive for creative work,
and as successful applications are made public, knowledge of the achievement
could benefit other researchers, he said.
- The two-day meeting which ended Friday gathered legal
and scientific experts from the Group of Eight (G8) countries plus Brazil,
China, India and Mexico.
- The talks discussed moral and legal questions arising
from genetic research, including the use of stem cells, culled from embryos,
for work on transplants.
- Research ministers from the participating countries are
due to meet in the southwestern French city over the weekend to assess
- Medical researchers believe that the genome will deliver
a glittering array of treatments to prevent or reverse inherited disorders,
ranging from brain diseases such as Alzheimers to baldness and obesity.
- However, such treatments lie many years down the road,
after a full version of the human genome is discovered and more knowledge
is gained about how genes work.
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