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About the Biotech & Pharma Industries & Human Biotechnology

The fast-growing biotech industry is playing a dominant role in shaping the development, marketing and use of human biotechnologies. Like the pharmaceutical industry, it profits by developing products aimed at treating disease and restoring health. Although some biotech products and activities are socially and ethically controversial, the industry as a whole tends to oppose public oversight and regulation.

This situation is complicated by increasingly blurred lines between private biotechnology companies and university researchers, between perceptions of serving the public interest and the profit imperatives of private enterprise, and between research and commercialization.

In recent decades, the US Congress has enacted policies that allow controversial patents (such as those on gene sequences and human tissues), and that encourage closer university-corporate relations. These policies have led to a rapid commercialization of biology and medicine, and to a significant number of university-based researchers with financial ties to private companies. Such arrangements allow them to maintain the appearance of serving the public interest while pursuing careers in the private sector.

Private industry is an important player in the development of human biotechnologies. But the lack of a financially independent counterweight like the one that public universities used to provide makes effective oversight and responsible regulation imperative. Given the impact of the biotech industry on public debate, public policy, and all of our lives, its interests must be transparent.

F.D.A. Targets Inaccurate Medical Tests, Citing Dangers and Costsby Robert PearThe New York TimesNovember 23rd, 2015Inaccurate, unreliable medical tests are prompting abortions, unnecessary surgeries, putting tens of thousands of people on unneeded drugs and raising medical costs.
Putting a Price on Human Eggs Makes No Senseby Debora SparFortuneNovember 21st, 2015No one wants to deal with the ugly reality that egg donation is not donation at all, but a high price paid for a piece of one’s body. We have identified this transaction and allowed it. Now we are only squabbling over the price.
F.D.A. Takes Issue With the Term ‘Non-G.M.O.’by Stephanie StromThe New York TimesNovember 20th, 2015In addition to balking at "organisms," the FDA argues an industry-serving definition of “genetic modification,” comparing thousands of years of breeding techniques to extremely modern synthetic biology tools.
Scientists may soon be able to 'cut and paste' DNA to cure deadly diseases and design perfect babiesby Tanya LewisBusiness InsiderNovember 19th, 2015CRISPR gene editing tools are being proposed for a wide range of uses, many of which pose risks to ecological systems and human society.
CRISPR Gene Editing: Proofreaders and Undo Buttons, but Ever "Safe" Enough?by Elliot Hosman, Biopolitical TimesNovember 19th, 2015Recent trends include research reports of "spellcheck" and "undo" functions associated with CRISPR gene editing, and a shift toward greater caution about germline applications.
Gene Therapy: Comeback? Cost-Prohibitive?by Elliot Hosman, Biopolitical TimesNovember 19th, 2015Recent CRISPR news sometimes confuses germline modification - which should be put off limits - and gene therapy, which presents its own set of social and ethical risks to resolve before rushing to market.
New Rules Proposed to Address Privacy and Trust in the Precision Medicine Initiativeby Katayoun Chamany, Biopolitical Times guest contributorNovember 19th, 2015The US Precision Medicine Initiative's goal of a million sequenced genomes is helping to propel a revision to the Common Rule governing human subject research.
Move Over, Jony Ive — Biologists Are the Next Rock Star Designersby Liz StinsonWIREDNovember 18th, 2015A biotech startup that calls itself an "organism design foundry" and works with designers and artists is part of a US bioeconomy that already generates $350 billion annually.
End ‘stem cell tourism,’ experts urgeby Michael CookBioEdgeNovember 14th, 2015Stem cell scientists appear to have oversold their product. Now patients, tired of waiting for the cures they were promised, are seeking unproven stem cell-based treatments that are causing more harm than good.
[China] Couples in China making babies through assisted reproductionChina DailyNovember 14th, 2015Half of the 90 million Chinese women now allowed to have a second child are between the ages of 40 and 49, and many couples are turning to assisted reproduction clinics.
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