GMWATCH number 9 (2/5/2003)

2 May 2003
GMWATCH number 9
From Claire Robinson, GMWATCH editor

Dear all,

We have a blisteringly brilliant article for you this month in our GENE THERAPY / MEDICAL BIOTECH section. The article, "The biotechnology bubble machine", by biotech industry insider David Rasnick, explains why the biotech industry is still going despite the fact that it's done hardly anybody any good and produced almost nothing of value. It shows too how, when the bubble does burst, as all bubbles eventually must, medical biotech in its present form will follow agbiotech into the dustbin of history. We've taken out a few choice quotes for the too-busy-to-read-much among you, and included the article in full for the rest.

We apologise that our archive is still operationally challenged (not working!) so we are providing external URLs where possible.  As ever, keep giving us your feedback, tell us what you are up to on the GM front, and send GMWATCH to all your friends.

Claire Robinson <[email protected]>










Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman has named seed giant Cargill's Daniel Amstutz to lead the US government's agriculture reconstruction efforts in Iraq. Amstutz will serve as senior ministry advisor for agriculture in the rebuilding effort and will coordinate the US Government activities in the sector. Veneman said, "He will help us achieve our national objective of creating a democratic and prosperous Iraq while at the same time best utilize the resources of our [US] farmers and food industry in the effort, both in the interim and for the longer term." In case that sounds as if Iraq is being prepared for massive dumping of the US's unsaleble stocks of GM grain, Cargill has a long history of Joint Ventures and cooperation with Monsanto and has been at the forefront of efforts to resistance the segregation of GM and non-GM grain.


The UN has adopted a resolution on the right to food in a vote of 51 in favour and one against (US), with one abstention (Australia). The resolution supports the right to food, and encourages nations to take steps to promote the conditions for everyone to be free from hunger and as soon as possible enjoy fully the right to food, as well as to elaborate and adopt national plans to combat hunger.

A Representative of the US said his delegation could not support the resolution on the right to food. His Government was the largest donor of [largely GM] food aid in the world. His Government's commitment to provide food and end hunger was unquestionable. His Government could not in any way endorse the work of the [UN] Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler. Instead, he should be reprimanded for his irresponsible statements and for abusing his mandate. The US delegation would request a recorded vote and would vote against the text.

The US hostility to UN's Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, arises from Ziegler's having questioned the safety of GM food and his suggestion that big corporations have more to gain from its use than poor countries fighting starvation. He said, "There is absolutely no justification to produce genetically modified food except the profit motive and the domination of the multinational corporations." U.N. food envoy questions safety of gene crops (Reuters, 15 Oct 2002) http://ngin.tripod.com/151002c.htm

 NB: GM agriculture, which relies on patented technology, precludes any assumption of a right to food. Anyone who wants to eat has to pay the technology fee to the company and buy new seeds each year.



A full year after Dr Ignacio Chapela's extension of tenure was approved by his department at the University of California, he still has no news on whether he will get tenure. His case has been in the hands of an Academic Senate committee since May 2002. Chapela's opposition to his university's 1998 deal with biotech firm Novartis, now called Syngenta, had put him on thin ice. His position became more precarious after biotech supporters attacked him for publishing a study in the scientific journal Nature arguing that GM maize had contaminated indigenous maize in Mexico, the crop's ancient gene pool.

Chapela's allies point to an apparent conflict of interest on the part of one of the nine review committee members, plant and microbial biology professor Jasper Rine, an ardent critic of Chapela's work. As a founder of the biotech company Acacia Biosciences in 1995, Rine's business dealings tie him to the very industry Chapela criticizes. http://www.dailycal.com/article.asp?id=11419

For more on the Chapela story: http://ngin.tripod.com/080602d.htm

Chapela says the delay makes him worried about his academic future: "It sends a message to those in academic positions - do not ask the wrong question."



The Baroness Susan Greenfield, Director of the Royal Institution (RI) and a close ally of the Blair government, has repeatedly expressed her approval of the entrepreneurial character of contemporary science. Indeed, Greenfield happily identifies herself as one of those accused of "selling their souls" to the private sector.

Greenfield has also been at the heart of efforts to control how controversial scientific issues, like GM crops and cloning, are communicated to the public - notably via the Science Media Centre (SMC), a project housed within the RI, and her work with the largely industry-backed Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC) whom Greenfield advises. (See: The New Thought Police http://ngin.tripod.com/thoughtpolice.htm)

 In an article published in the Guardian, science communication expert Jon Turney responded to a recent article by Greenfield about how the "widening gulf between the science cognoscenti and Everyone Else' needs to be tackled through the public achieving a far higher level of scientific literacy. (See: A new kind of literacy http://www.guardian.co.uk/life/opinion/story/0,12981,933082,00.html)

 Turney takes Greenfield to task for her own scientific "illiteracy" - her failure to pay heed to the actual research evidence on these issues. Turney writes, "if large numbers of people fail to achieve some ideal of scientific literacy this may be because they have got the message that they have no real purchase on scientific decision making, not because they are incapable of mastering technicalities."

He argues we need to empower the public by giving them a genuine say in decision making, because the evidence is that they will then "find the motivation to become as scientifically literate as you, or rather they, please."  http://www.guardian.co.uk/Print/0,3858,4649498,00.html

 The problem Turney fails to address, in an otherwise excellent article, is attempts by groups with strong vested interests and agendas, like the RS and the FSA, to manipulate public involvement in order to promote their own agenda, through skewing information, question-setting etc. The evidence thus far indicates that it is not scientific literacy that the likes of Greenfield and the RI, SIRC, and SMC wish to promote, so much as blind obedience to industry-generated mind control.


The views of the Food Standards Agency's (FSA) Citizens' Jury on GM food seriously challenge the Agency's own policies, Friends of the Earth said. While the jury voted nine to six in favour of allowing GM food to be available in the UK, all 15 jurors called for "effective labelling and monitoring of GM foods". The FSA have consistently lobbied against the full traceability and labelling regulations currently being debated by the European Parliament. http://www.foodstandards.gov.uk/news/pressreleases/citizensjury_result


The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has announced that it will re-assess the conclusions and recommendations of its 1999 report, entitled Genetically Modified Crops: Ethical and Social Issues". This is being done in the light of recent developments particularly in developing countries.  

Back in 1999 difficult issues like Pusztai's research and critical reports on GMOs from the BMA and Christian Aid were buried and rebutted by a series of reports attacking Pusztai and declaring GMOs a good thing for all but not least the world's poor. One of these was the Nuffield report, on the committee of which sat the Vice President of the Royal Society along with Derek Burke. George Monbiot described it as, "perhaps the most asinine report on biotechnology ever written. The stain it leaves on the Nuffield Council's excellent reputation will last for years." http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/nuffield.htm

This wave of pro-GM reports followed a leak of a Cabinet memo calling for the government's messages on GMOs to be "flagged" in the media by eminent scientists.

The new Nuffield report will come out just in time for the government's upcoming 'decision' on GM commercialisation. Oh, and there will be new reports from the Royal Society and Sense about Science looking at Pusztai and Chapela and the issue of peer review. Oh, and the Royal Society, famous for its rebuttal unit to fight anti-GM messages and its recent hyping of the Monsanto-funded skylark research, is going to be in charge of the publication of the UK crop trial results.



The ability of DNA to survive for long periods in soil has raised fears about mutant disease-causing bacteria and viruses. Oxford University professor Alan Cooper, an expert on ancient DNA, spoke out during a visit to New Zealand on the dangers of GE. His findings that DNA could survive for thousands of years in soil were published this April in the journal Science. "The ability of DNA to persist in soils for so long was completely underestimated . . . and illustrates how little we know," Prof Cooper said. "The implication is that a great deal more research is needed before we could predict the effect of releasing GE plants."

Soil bacteria could swap DNA with other sources without sexual reproduction - a phenomenon known as horizontal gene transfer - with the risk of antibiotic resistance passing from GE crops into disease-causing bacteria, he said. "It raises serious issues about the release of altered genes into the environment, such as how long are they going to last, and where will they be able to disperse to."



Britain has approved a new field trial of Syngenta's GM wheat, as hundreds of US and Canadian farm groups press for a moratorium on its full-scale introduction amid trans-crop contamination worries about one of the world's most important foods. The farm groups oppose the introduction of GM wheat because they fear export markets, especially Europe, will suffer as a result of GM contamination and loss of consumer confidence. http://society.guardian.co.uk/societyguardian/story/0,7843,937203,0.html

German authorities also approved an application from Syngenta to start Germany's first trials of GM wheat. But 25 Greenpeace activists sowed organic wheat seed on the test site, aimed at ruining trials as it will be impossible to tell the difference between GM and conventional wheat. Syngenta has subsequently abandoned plans for the trial. http://www.forbes.com/home_europe/newswire/2003/04/14/rtr938607.html

It's probably no coincidence that British and German consumers are among the most anti-GM in Europe. What better way of pre-emptively silencing opposition to GM wheat than by contaminating the strongholds of resistance?  

"The hope of the industry is that over time the market is so flooded [with GM] that there's nothing you can do about it, you just sort of surrender." Don Westfall, vice president of Promar, consulting firm to the food industry (clients include Kellogs, ConAgra and Aventis) in an interview with the Toronto Star



The Indian government's regulatory authority, Genetic Engineering Approval  Committee (GEAC), unanimously rejected the proposal for commercial cultivation in north India of a new variety of Bt cotton developed by Mahyco Seed Company in collaboration with Monsanto. The rejection stands forever, in that this particular Bt cotton will not be reconsidered.  

GEAC concluded that "cultivation of the new Bt cotton, Mech 915 in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and western Uttar Pradesh should not be allowed as this variety is highly sensitive to the leaf curl virus. Leaf curl virus. affects the yield of cotton and can affect other crops in the region as it is easily carried by white flies". Local varieties of cotton grown in the region are more resistant to leaf curl virus. It has been assessed that Mech 915 is sensitive to leaf curl virus by 56 per cent on an average and by 92 per cent in certain cases. http://www.financialexpress.com/fe_full_story.php?content_id=33003


A group of 'farmers' brought from Andhra Pradesh disembarked in New Delhi to 'disrupt' a meeting organised by the New Delhi-based NGO Gene Campaign, on Tuesday, April 15. Gene campaign was merely presenting the data of a field study on the performance of Bt cotton in Andhra Pradesh, where widespread failures of the crop were reported. The 'farmers' began to interact with the media, saying they were getting fantastic results with Bt cotton and everyone was definitely going to grow it again. They began denouncing the work being reported in the discussion, saying the results were not true.

On being questioned, the farmers admitted they had been sent by Monsanto, their fare and hospitality had been paid for by Monsanto and they were sent by train the night before specifically for Gene Campaign's meeting. They said they were asked by Monsanto to speak strongly in favour of Bt cotton and to say they were all in support of Bt cotton. The farmers were accompanied by the head of the Liberty Institute, a supporter of Mahyco-Monsanto and a promoter of free trade and economic liberalisation. http://www.agbioindia.org/archive.asp

For more on the lobby work of the head of the Liberty Institute and the Monsanto connection, see The Fake Parade: http://ngin.tripod.com/041202d.htm

Monsanto stooge Chengal Reddy has also been part of the same Monsanto campaign. According to a recent article in the Indian press, Reddy's Indian Farmers and Industry Alliance claims Bt cotton has been a big success in India, especially in Andhra Pradesh, with farmers reporting higher incomes. All of which is pretty remarkable when, according to the State government in Andhra Pradesh, it is having to consider a compensation package because farmers using Bt cotton 'aren't getting the yields they were promised and the poor quality of the crop also fetches a lower price in the market'.

See: Bt cotton proves a failure in Andhra Pradesh

Sun Network, Hyderabad, Mar 03

For more on 'farmer' Reddy and his lobby work for Monsanto, see The Fake Parade:  http://ngin.tripod.com/041202d.htm


In the Philippines a peasant leader, Eddie Gumanoy, whose KMP organisation has strongly opposed GM crops, has been abducted and killed. Hundreds of farmers from the provinces of Cavite, Batangas and Quezon held a protest in Mendiola Bridge to condemn and charge President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as "brains" in the brutal murders of Southern Tagalog peasant leader Eduardo Gumanoy and human rights activist Eden Marcellana.


Hunger strikers have maintained a diet of water-and-juice only since April 22 in protest against the decision of the Dept of Agriculture last December to allow companies as Monsanto to sell GM corn seeds in the Philippine market. The strikers say GM Bt corn poses a risk to people's health, native corn crops and the environment, and should be subjected to a moratorium until safety, environmental, health and economic concerns are resolved. The strike is indefinite, say the strikers, until the government withdraws the permit it issued Monsanto in December to propagate and market Bt corn. Please send letters in support of the hunger strikers to the Secretary of Agriculture Luis "Cito" Lorenzo, (email: [email protected], fax 6302 929 8183). Also, please BCC to: [email protected], [email protected][email protected]

Examples of points to make (please use your own words) are:

* We join the activists of NO GMOs who are on hunger strike to ask you and your government to impose an immediate moratorium on the field testing and commercialisation of GMOs in the Philippines;

* Such an act would demonstrate that you support the farmers of your country over corporate interests;

* Liability for contamination has not been addressed;

* Many scientists agree that GM is an imprecise technology with unknown effects; health, environmental and economic dangers have not been addressed.



DuPont, the US's second-largest chemical company, withheld from the government an internal study linking a toxic chemical in Teflon to birth defects in some children, an advocacy group charged. Environmental Working Group claimed that DuPont violated federal law by failing to turn over a document in 1981 showing the risks of perfluorooctanoic acid, or C8, a chemical used to manufacture Teflon. Teflon is a widely available household product used to keep clothing dry or prevent food from sticking to pots and pans. http://www.planetark.org/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/20464/story.htm



A report on the prospects for GM giant Monsanto, which has 91% of the world's market in GM seeds, says the company "could be another financial disaster waiting to happen". Innovest, which specialises in environmental, social, and strategic governance issues and is based in New York, says the company may not be able to obtain insurance against risks of contamination of food and other farm products, which might result in big compensation claims.

The report, commissioned by Greenpeace, says the company's prospects for expansion are limited because of increasing rejection of GM. One of Monsanto's latest products, GM wheat, might be a "costly failure" because of market rejection and could cost the US large grain exports, the report says. http://www.guardian.co.uk/gmdebate/Story/0,2763,946198,00.html



A Mori poll shows that Blair's government will struggle to convince the public it is right in its support for GM crops. Opponents of GM continue to outnumber supporters solidly, by four to one, with 56 per cent of the population against, and only 14 per cent in favour. Among women the figures are even starker, at six to one, with 61 per cent against and only 10 percent in favour. Opposition to GM goes across all political parties, social classes and income groups, the data shows.

"The widespread extent of the opposition is surprising," said Philip Downing, Mori's head of environmental research. "Several years ago, when the row over GM was at its height, there was a clear majority against, and there still is. If the Government thinks that people are coming round to GM technology, this clearly shows that the opposition to it is still remarkably stable." http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/environment/story.jsp?story=401091


Italians are against GM foods and condemn them as trivial, risky and morally problematic, according to a study on perceptions of biotech carried out in Italy by researchers from the Communications Sciences Department of the University of Siena, led by Prof Agnes Allansdottir. The research is part of a larger study on public perception of biotechnology carried out in every European country. http://www.agi.it/english/news.pl?doc=200304151554-0168-RT1-CRO-0-NF11&page=0&id=agionline-eng.oggitalia

Governments and industry are fond of claiming that such studies are done to find out what consumers want so that governments and industry can supply it. But there is also a school of thought which believes that the true aim is to gauge public opinion in order to better target propaganda persuading us to swallow the government/industry 'line'.



In Oregon last autumn, Measure 27, which would have required labelling of GM foods, was defeated by voters last fall after industry lobbyists spent vast bucks telling the public that labelling would cost them money. Clearly, when GM labels have been described by industry insiders as equivalent to putting a skull-and-crossbones on food, the last thing that industry wants in the Land of the Free and Consumer Choice is renewed calls for labelling.

Now, the Oregon Legislature is acting to ensure that such a threat never arises. A bill (no. 2957), introduced in early March by Republican Representative and farmer Jeff Kropf, and passed by the House, would remove local governments' rights to require food labelling. It also would ban any state agency from requiring food labelling that is more stringent than the federal government's labels. Essentially, Kropf is saying that the state must give up its rights to the federal government.

Currently, this bill is before the Oregon Legislature's Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, and Sen. Frank Shields, D-Portland, is the chairman. Contact Shields at (503) 986-1724. The University area is represented by Sen. Tony Corcoran, D-Cottage Grove, who also sits on this committee. Contact Corcoran at (503) 986-1724. Contact Kropf, the bill's sponsor, at (503) 986-1417. http://www.dailyemerald.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2003/04/24/3ea7f7c9861c9



The article below provides brilliant insights into the medical biotech industry from an industry insider - the author worked for 20 years in pharmaceutical industry. It demonstrates that plant biotech is not the only part of the industry headed for disaster, as well as providing useful statistics. Here are some telling excerpts from the article, which concludes: "How long this self-referential, pyramid structure of the pharmaceutical/biotech industries will remain standing is anyone's guess."


"Because biotechnology had so little to show after two decades and billions of dollars spent, it used to puzzle me that most people working or investing in biotechnology companies never seemed to lose money. The reason for this, I came to realize, was the sector's incestuous nature. The way money is made is for certain biotechnology companies to merge with or acquire other biotech companies. Some bioscience companies are acquired by large pharmaceutical companies eager to obtain the special capabilities of the smaller fish. With each merger and acquisition, money and stock change hands."

"In order to forestall the eventual implosion, a new breed of biotechnology company has chosen to abandon the painstaking and often spotty laboratory approach to research in favor of using higher mathematics to exploit a genetic map of the human genome to 'better target' that research. The recent surge in bioinformatics companies may set a record for swiftness of disillusionment. Bioinformatics is gambling that the secrets to health and disease are waiting to be deciphered from the labyrinth of the human genome and proteome. The bioinformatics fad is based on the same misguided belief used partly to justify funding of the genome project: that complex human diseases, such as cancer and arthritis, are caused by 'bad' genes. Gene therapy - replacing bad genes with good - would be the logical solution to such diseases. But, the naive belief in gene therapy for complex diseases is inexplicable given that it has not even been attempted in a real, well-recognized gene disease, such as hemophilia."

"How long this self-referential, pyramid structure of the pharmaceutical/biotech industries will remain standing is anyone's guess."


The biotechnology bubble machine
Nature Biotechnology, Vol 21 (4), p. 355-356, by David Rasnick
April 2003

The Biotech Advisor newsletter[1] informs potential investors that biotechnology is "not the stuff of which bubbles are made." The reason biotechnology is so exciting, and such a great investment, we are assured, is because...

"[I]t's for real. It's substantial. It's not going away. Biotech companies aren't run by twenty-something MBAs with green hair whose lifelong goal is to cash in and retire by age 30. Biotechnology companies are managed by some of the smartest - and most ethical - people in the world: scientists, physicians, and top managers who have dedicated their lives to improving human health. These folks are smart enough to realize that the only way they're going to get rich is if the stockholders get rich. And the only way the stockholders are going to get rich is if their products work - if they pass five to eight years of testing that costs upwards of $800 million, culminating in approval by the toughest regulatory agency on earth, the US Food and Drug Administration."

Even within the pharmaceutical industry, biotechnology is different. Unlike the 'meds' in your bathroom cabinet (pills, creams, tablets, etc.), which pretty much only treat your symptoms, biotechnology products offer the potential for effective, long-lasting treatment for the root causes of such chronic diseases as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. In some cases, biotech products (e.g., gene therapy) could even cure certain illnesses. That's the hope and the promise - the reason large pharmaceutical companies like Merck and Pfizer continue to pour billions into biotechnology, through partnerships and through their own home-grown biotechnology efforts. And that's also why individual investors also need to give biotechnology stocks a hard look[1].

However, the depressing regularity of biotechnology failures has led to the realization that, "Far from delivering on its early promise of effective cures for exotic diseases, biotechnology has instead proved to be a complex endeavor, with high costs and long lead times requiring the financial stamina only big corporations can usually deliver"[2].

While biotech continues the Sisyphean effort to realize its promise, the healthcare industry as a whole appears to thrive in a period of economic malaise. In a recent article in the New York Times, Henry A. McKinnell, the chief executive of Pfizer, said that while "The telecom industry and the financial industry have crashed[,] [w]e're still growing"[3] . Some of the people who once worked in the Northeast's technology sector have found a refuge in the healthcare industry. The Northeast has a higher proportion of healthcare workers than any other region of the country. In New York City, for example, 40% of the largest private employers are medical institutions. In Philadelphia, the figure is 70%. But this is a temporary refuge at best because the entire healthcare industry in the United States is set for a major fall and biotechnology will likely lead the way.

There are 1,457 biotechnology companies in the United States, of which 342 are publicly held[4]. The total value of publicly traded biotech companies was $224 billion as of early May 2002. The biotechnology industry has more than tripled in size since 1992, with revenues increasing from $8 billion in 1992 to $35.9 billion in 2001 (ref. 5 ). The US biotechnology industry currently employs 179,000 people; that's more than all the people employed by the toy and sporting goods industries. Many biotechnology companies are small startups that disappear in a couple of years only to be replaced by a new crop of startups eager to recycle the highly skilled workforce.

Biotechnology is one of the most research-intensive industries in the world. The US biotech industry spent $13.5 billion on research and development in 2001 (ref. 5 ). The top five biotechnology companies spent an average of $89,400 per employee on R&D in 2000. Yet, in spite of its colossal size, favorable publicity in the popular media, and two decades of effort, biotechnology's real contributions to human health and economic growth are pitifully few. Only one of 16 regions in the United States where biotechnology has a significant presence showed net income for 1999 (ref. 6). And that income was largely due to Amgen (Thousand Oaks, CA) and a handful of other companies[5, 6]. Overall, publicly held biotechnology companies showed a loss of more than $5.3 billion in 2001 (ref. 5).

Amgen's Epogen and Neupogen, which stimulate the bone marrow to produce more red and white blood cells, respectively, are biotechnology's biggest moneymaking drugs. One of the main uses of both drugs is to treat the toxic effects to the bone marrow caused by chemotherapy for cancer and AIDS. Developing drugs to treat the toxic effects of other drugs has become a growth industry. Since 1996, 11 such drugs were approved by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA; Rockville, MD) (ref. 7).

Genentech (S. San Francisco, CA) - one of the companies that pioneered the biotechnology sector and produced such groundbreaking products as recombinant insulin and human growth hormone - also brought us tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), a recombinant human factor used to prevent blood clots after heart attacks. The company has spent massive amounts of money on clinical studies in an effort to demonstrate the superiority of tPA over its competition and to justify its high cost. Because tPA works no better than streptokinase, a bacterial enzyme used for the same purpose that costs ten times less[8], Genentech has spent millions of dollars marketing tPA aggressively.

Biogen, the world's oldest independent biotechnology company, is still trying to find a use for its otherwise highly profitable recombinant interferons, which have been sold for 17 different types of cancer, viral infections, hepatitis, hairy cell leukemia, Kaposi's sarcoma, AIDS, and multiple sclerosis.

These examples epitomize the triumphs of biotechnology. Most of the remaining 140 or so biotechnology products are not moneymakers either because FDA approval is for rare diseases with small markets or because they just plain don't work.

Because biotechnology had so little to show after two decades and billions of dollars spent, it used to puzzle me that most people working or investing in biotechnology companies never seemed to lose money. The reason for this, I came to realize, was the sector's incestuous nature. The way money is made is for certain biotechnology companies to merge with or acquire other biotech companies. Some bioscience companies are acquired by large pharmaceutical companies eager to obtain the special capabilities of the smaller fish. With each merger and acquisition, money and stock change hands. A recent example is Amgen's $16 billion acquisition of Immunex (Seattle, WA)[9]. A sure way to make money (though less glamorous) is by providing the technical reagents and equipment used by other biotechnology companies.

In order to forestall the eventual implosion, a new breed of biotechnology company has chosen to abandon the painstaking and often spotty laboratory approach to research in favor of using higher mathematics to exploit a genetic map of the human genome to 'better target' that research. The recent surge in bioinformatics companies may set a record for swiftness of disillusionment. Bioinformatics is gambling that the secrets to health and disease are waiting to be deciphered from the labyrinth of the human genome and proteome. The bioinformatics fad is based on the same misguided belief used partly to justify funding of the genome project: that complex human diseases, such as cancer and arthritis, are caused by 'bad' genes. Gene therapy - replacing bad genes with good - would be the logical solution to such diseases. But, the naive belief in gene therapy for complex diseases is inexplicable given that it has not even been attempted in a real, well-recognized gene disease, such as hemophilia.

How long this self-referential, pyramid structure of the pharmaceutical/biotech industries will remain standing is anyone's guess.


1. The Biotech Advisor (Charter Financial Publishing Network, Shrewsbury, NJ, 2002).
2. Ackerman, J. A promise unfulfilled in biotechnology: decline and fall of Alpha-Beta speaks volumes about pitballs of industry. The Boston Globe, February 10 (1999).
3. Leonhardt, D. Northeast Quietly Becomes a Health Care Corridor. New York Times, December 30 (2002).
4. http://www.bio.org/news/stats.asp
5. Lähteenmäki, R. & Fletcher, L. Nat. Biotechnol. 21, 551-555 (2002).
6. Feldbaum, C.B., Convergence: Ernst & Young's Biotechnology Industry Report, Millennium Edition (E&Y, New York, 2000).
7. http://www.bio.org/er/approveddrugs.asp
8. Lee, K.L., et al. Ann. Intern. Med. 120, 876-885 (1994). | PubMed |
9. Federal Trade Commission. Resolving Anticompetitive Concerns, FTC Clears $16 Billion Acquisition of Immunex Corp. by Amgen Inc. (FTC, Washington, DC, 2002).

David Rasnick is chief science officer of Boveran (San Ramon, CA)
e-mail:  [email protected]




Canada's biotech industry says its prospects have been hard hit by a Supreme Court decision against patenting the Harvard mouse. Industry spokesmen said Monday the ruling has had a chilling effect on foreign investment and called on Ottawa to introduce legislation to permit patenting higher life forms. The genetically altered mouse was intended for use in cancer research. The Dec. 5 decision, which stunned many in the biotech industry, makes Canada the only major industrial country that prohibits patenting life forms. http://www.globetechnology.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20030415.gtbioapr15/GTStory


"The immediate issue is risk. While even the perpetrators of GMOs acknowledge theoretical dangers - that GM crops could be toxic to consumers and wildlife - the risks, we are told, are small. But the risks are not known to be small: they are not known at all, and in principle they are unknowable. The consequences of dropping exotic genes into genomes, and exotic transformed plants into ecosystems, can hardly begin to be anticipated.

"[UK Prime Minister Tony] Blair spoke as if GM were already a world-saver. In fact GMOs have contributed nothing of unequivocal value to the three big crops, and neither are they likely to. That's because the necessary genes - to increase resistance to drought or flood, for example - can be obtained more easily from related grasses, by standard cross-breeding. GM operates almost entirely on the nutritional margins, on peripheral qualities of cereals, and on crops grown for commerce: soya, rapeseed, tomatoes." Colin Tudge, visiting research fellow at the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science at the London School of Economics, in "Brave New World?" New Scientist, April 5, 2003. His book So Shall We Reap, about world agriculture and the role of science within it, will be published by Penguin in September



We hope that many of our subscribers will attend the following (free!) conference entitled "GM Crops: Do We Need Them? Are They Safe?". Hosted by the newly convened Independent Science Panel on GM, speakers will include such luminaries as David Bellamy, Stanley Ewen and Arpad Pusztai (co-researchers on the famous GM spud study), Mae-Wan Ho (author of books and papers on GM), Malcolm Hooper, Vyvyan Howard (toxicologist at University of Liverpool), Brian John (GM-FREE Cymru), Peter Melchett (Soil Association), and others.

Date:   May 10, 2003      Time: 13:30h to 18:30h
Venue: Franklin-Wilkins Building, Auditorium B5, King's College, Waterloo, London
Sponsored by The Ecologist, Institute of Science in Society, Scientists for Global Responsibility, Soil Association, Third World Network and GM Free Cymru
Tickets from: [email protected]



"Bioterrorists are the most widely publicized threat at the moment, but well-intentioned scientists, Rees says, are capable of accidentally wiping out mankind via genetically engineered superpathogens that create unprecedented pandemics, or even through something as weird as high-energy particle experiments that backfire and cause the universe to implode.  Rees poses some hard questions about scientists' responsibility to forsake research that might lead to a malevolent genie being let out of its bottle and even to restrict the sharing of scientific information to prevent it from getting into the wrong hands.

"For many technological debacles, Rees places much of the blame squarely on the shoulders of the scientists who participate in perfecting environmental destruction, biological menaces, and ever-more powerful weapons."

Publishers Weekly review of new book, Our Final Hour: A Scientist's Warning: How Terror, Error, and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind's Future In This Century - On Earth and Beyond, by Sir Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal. Basic Books, 2003, ISBN: 0465068626

AMAZON/US: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0465068626/darwinanddarwini

AMAZON/UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0434008095/humannaturecom


To subscribe to the 'GMW daily' list

send an e-mail to [email protected] with the message:

'subscribe GMW daily'

You'll receive up to 30 mails a week


To subscribe to the 'WEEKLY WATCH'

send an e-mail to [email protected] with the message:

'subscribe WEEKLY WATCH'

You'll receive 1 mail a week with a news roundup

Those subscribed to the daily list will receive the WEEKLY WATCH automatically


To subscribe to 'GMWATCH' (monthly)

send an e-mail to [email protected] with the message:

'subscribe GMWATCH'

You'll receive 1 mail a month with a news roundup

Those subscribed to the daily bulletins and WEEKLY WATCH will receive GMWATCH automatically

To unsubscribe to any of the these lists: just mail us saying 'unsubscribe' and specifying which list

archived at:


GMWATCH website: http://www.ngin.org.uk

Donations made out to 'NGIN':

NGIN, 26 Pottergate, Norwich, NR2 1DX, United Kingdom or e-mail for details: [email protected]

Go to a Print friendly Page

Email this Article to a Friend

Back to the Archive