Genome talks collapse over commercial ownership

The publicly funded Human Genome Project (HGP) today announced that negotiations with the commercial DNA sequencing company Celera Genomics had broken down. The HGP had hoped that the combined effort of the public and private sector would bring more rapid benefits from the programme.

“We are committed to ensuring that our DNA sequence results are available to all. We had hoped to find common ground with Celera which would allow them reasonable commercial return, whilst ensuring the best sequence data was published as soon as possible. Unfortunately, Celera’s requirements seemed to amount to them establishing an effective monopoly over the human genome.”

Professor Martin Bobrow One of the HGP representatives at the meetings and a Governor of The Wellcome Trust, who fund the UK effort

The talks stumbled when Celera refused to accept a statement of ‘Shared Principles’ prepared by the HGP participants. The HGP team made repeated attempts to discuss differences with the President of Celera, Dr J. Craig Venter, but received no response from him throughout January and February.

Mr Tony White, the CEO of Celera’s parent company, PE Corporation, told the HGP team that Celera would seek to maintain an exclusive licence on the combined data for up to four years and would seek also to licence downstream developments, such as DNA chips used to study genes, from the proposed combined effort. Such demands are not acceptable to the public programme. PE Corporation is the manufacturer of one of the most widely bought DNA sequencing machines.

The HGP is a collaborative effort with major centres in the US, the UK, France Germany and Japan that is dedicated to decoding the book of life – the entire sequence of characters in our genes. Scientists predict that this information will lead to new and better medicines.

A major principle of the HGP is that the sequence results are placed in the public domain within 24 hours of their being obtained. This allows researchers worldwide equal access and promotes new research opportunities and collaborations. Researchers in the field agree that this approach has already been proven successful in understanding the genomes of model organisms such as the nematode worm and the fruit fly.

The HGP remains committed to providing a full-access sequence of the human genome and tools to analyse the sequence as quickly as possible. The failure of these negotiations is regrettable but does not deflect the researchers of the HGP from their goal of producing a draft sequence this year and a final version by 2003. The HGP has sequenced more than twice as many DNA bases as Celera.

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Notes to Editor

  1. The Sanger Centre is one of the world’s leading genome sequencing centres and is the focus of the UK contribution to the Human Genome Project (HGP). The Sanger Centre is part of the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus at Hinxton near Cambridge. Founded in 1992, it employs over 500 staff in purpose-built laboratories completed in 1997. Both the Sanger Centre and the Wellcome Trust have been at the forefront of efforts to keep sequence data in the public domain. Websites,

  2. The Wellcome Trust is the world’s largest medical research charity with an annual spend of some £600 million in the current financial year 1999/2000. The Wellcome Trust supports more than 3000 researchers at 300 locations in 30 different countries – laying the foundations for the healthcare advances of the 21st century and helping to maintain the UK’s reputation as one of the world’s leading scientific nations. As well as funding major initiatives in the public understanding of science, the Wellcome Trust is the countrys leading supporter of research into the history of medicine.

  3. The Human Genome Project (HGP) is an international, collaborative venture to unlock the secrets of our genes. Five major centres, principal collaborating groups, and laboratories worldwide are working together to sequence the human genome. All results are placed in the public domain within 24 hours, with access through internet sites in the UK, the US and Japan. Tools for analysing the data are available to help researchers.

  4. Our genome is embodied in the sequence of letters in our DNA. In all, we have 3 billion letters (bases) in our genome, which specify many of our characteristics – whether we have blue or brown eyes and whether or not we will develop certain diseases. Genome sequencing projects are designed to write down all these letters in order. Interpretation of these letters will lead to a new understanding of how our DNA works and to new methods for treatment of disease.