"Need not greed", say Nobel Prize winners

26 Nov 2009

Some of the world's leading names in science and ethics - including two Nobel Prize winners - have challenged society to rethink attitudes to the commercialisation of scientific knowledge in a ‘Manifesto’ published today.

Professor John Sulston
Professor John Sulston

The renowned group of 50 signatories is led by moral philosopher Professor John Harris and Nobel Prize winning biologist Professor Sir John Sulston, both from the Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation (iSEI) at The University of Manchester.

Nobel Laureate and Chair of the Brooks World Poverty Institute at The University of Manchester, Professor Joseph Stiglitz, is also among the signatories.

The ‘Manchester Manifesto’ calls for a reassessment of the current system of patents and intellectual property regulated by national and international laws.

According to Professors Harris and Sulston, the system is in desperate need of change because it excludes poorer people from access to essential medicines and expertise.

They both say profit should not override the needs of the public despite it being currently the primary reward for research and development.

Professor Sulston received a Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2002 and was a key member of the Human Genome project team.

He chairs iSEI and has been a vocal critic of a biopharmaceutical company's patenting of two genes closely associated with breast and ovarian cancer.

The US Government allowed Myriad Genetics to patent tests of the genes, sparking fury from patients and a campaign by the American Civil Liberties Union - supported by Professor Sulston.

He said: "It shocks many people when they realise that even our genes fall under intellectual property law.

"Genes are naturally occurring things, not inventions, and part of humanity's rich heritage.

"We cannot restrict essential research into diseases such as cancer to only those who can afford to pay.

"The current method of managing innovation and intellectual property has an adverse effect on many impoverished people- especially in the developing world.

"The system is wrong: powerful states have huge influence in the way the rules are created and tailor them to their own advantage.

"We also ask for a strong commitment from Western Governments to increase assistance to the developing world to build capacity for their own scientific research."

Professor Harris, who is the Director of iSEI said: "The Manchester Manifesto is a first attempt to answer the question ‘Who Owns Science?’.

"And from our work, it is clear that the existing model, while serving some necessary purposes, also impedes achievement of core scientific goals.

"In many cases access to scientific knowledge and products has been cut off, stopping the benefits of science in its tracks.

"The system restricts the flow of information and it can hinder innovation through the costly and complicated nature of the system.

"Limited improvements may be achieved through modification of the current IP system, but consideration of alternative models is urgently required.

“iSEI is coordinating a programme of further work including edited books, education programmes and meetings, details of which are also available."

Notes for editors

Download the Manchester Manifesto at http://www.isei.manchester.ac.uk/

For media enquires contact:

Mike Addelman
Media Relations
Faculty of Humanities
The University of Manchester
0161 275 0790
07717 881567