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Translational Research Takes the Spotlight at Genome Canada Meeting

VANCOUVER (GenomeWeb News) – Research commercialization, intellectual property, data release, and open access may not be mutually exclusive goals in bringing genomic discoveries to market, according to some experts.
 
Researchers grappled with these and other big questions — including public perceptions of research — at the opening session of a Genome Canada conference called “2020 Vision: The Impact of Science in Society” in Vancouver yesterday.
 
Participating in the session were Robert Cook-Deegan, director of Duke University’s Center for Genome Ethics, Law and Policy; Christine Critchley, a social psychologist at Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia; Tim Hubbard, head of informatics and head of human genome analysis at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute; and Aurora Plomer, chair of law and bioethics at Sheffield University. Timothy Caulfield, research director at the University of Alberta’s Health Law Institute, chaired the session.
 
Rapid advances in the genomics field have created “profound challenges and profound opportunity,” Caulfield noted as he kicked off the session.
 
As industry and academia share active roles in genomics research, for instance, new types of research relationships, organizations, and innovation are springing up — raising important policy issues. “Things are happening in both the public and the private sector,” Cook-Deegan said. “There are at least two sources of capital for doing this sort of whiz-bang research.”
 
In the process, research organizations and collaborations are increasingly coming up with guidelines to help ensure appropriate data sharing, Cook-Deegan said, pointing to a string of genomics projects with stringent data sharing norms.
 
He also touched on a number of related issues surrounding data and intellectual property rights, highlighting their intersection with public policy. For instance, Cook-Deegan explained, the consequences of genomics — for instance, recreating human lineages — affects all sorts of people from all over the world.
 
The rise in genetic and genomic research also goes hand-in-hand with increased DNA sequence and patenting, he noted. In the US, a DNA patenting leader, many of those patents are held by the private sector, Cook-Deegan said. In other parts of the world, such as Europe and Japan, public genetic patents tend to edge out private patents.
 
As whole-genome sequencing becomes more common, infringing on those patents may be inevitable, according to some. That, in turn, will lead to increasingly nuanced debate regarding genetic patents and related policies, Cook-Deegan predicted.
 
Relationships between industry and academia may also color public perceptions of research, Critchley argued. Her research in Australia suggests that the public may put more trust in public research projects than in private research projects, potentially because of a lack of trust in the companies involved in research. Still, she noted, there is still very little research in this area. Critchley said that more research is needed to tease apart the many factors influencing public opinion on genomics and other research.
 
Another big issue in the field: translating research into products and treatments. “Disclosure is absolutely essential to the dynamic of the system,” Plomer said, arguing that in the current milieu there is a failure in knowledge transfer due to fuzzy patents.
 
Patents affecting genomic research are often difficult to decipher or even find in databases, she noted. Improving patent visibility and providing access to up-to-date patent data may contribute to a more functional translational research environment, Plomer said.
 
For his part, Sanger’s Hubbard advocated applying open access to help drive the translation of genomic research. He argued that it could be possible to incentivise research by directly funding projects or offering prizes for innovation. By providing incentives up front, Hubbard said, it may no longer be necessary to have a market pulling the innovation. 
 
The widespread adoption of open access data release policies suggests that open access can provide value for investment money and spur collective global data analysis and capacity building, Hubbard said, pointing to efforts such as the Human Genome Project.
 
Now, Hubbard said, such an approach could benefit translational research too — for instance, spurring the development of drugs for which there is no market, Hubbard said, using malaria drugs as one example. For example, because malaria has the greatest impact in developing countries where expensive drugs won’t reach enough of the population, there may not be a huge economic payout for companies developing malaria treatments.
 
But, Hubbard suggested, providing prizes and monetary incentives for innovation early in the process could drive research and translation even in the absence of an after-production market — and allow openness in translational research.
 

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