The Network of the Indigenous Peoples-Solomons (NIPS) welcomes the abandonment of a US patent application that uses genetic samples from Solomon Islanders, in a case that raises major ethical questions.
According to the USPTO’s Patent Application Information Retrieval system, US based lawyers representing Taiwanese scientist, Dr. Ko Ying-Chin filed an express abandonment application on April 01st, 2011 at 2:53pm EDT for the patent application number US20100248253.
The express abandonment was subsequently processed by the USPTO on April 4th, 2011 and now the status of the US patent application is listed as “expressly abandoned (during examination).”
Effectively, the patent application is now stopped. This patent application entitled “Method and Kit for Assessing Risk of Gout and Hyperuricemia,” uses samples from 192 Solomon Islanders,
collected at the National Referral Hospital and two clinics in Guadalcanal Province during a research trip led by Dr. Ko in September 2006.
Dr. Ko and his colleagues only abandoned the patent application after NIPS, along with other non-governmental organizations in the Solomon Islands, began to publicly challenge it. The basis of this challenge was Dr. Ko’s failure to obtain proper informed consent from the blood donors for such commercialization.
The informed consent given by blood donors in September 2006 was limited to medical research uses, and contained no mention of using the samples for patenting and other commercial purposes.
NIPS emphasizes the patent application which used the blood samples from unknowing indigenous Solomon Islanders clearly involved serious ethicalbreaches on the part of the Taiwanese medical researcher and three of his colleagues who were listed as patent applicants.
This Non-Government Organization says whilst it welcomes the abandonment, it is still eager to receive a reply from Dr. Ko on questions that need be answered including whether any cell lines of the Solomon Islanders were immortalized, and if any samples were shared with
other researchers or institutions in Taiwan and abroad.
The NIPS adds that it further welcomes Dr Ko’s response in mid-March – communicated through the Embassy of Taiwan in Honiara - where he states, he samples will be repatriated to the Solomon Islands.
The NIPS also hopes all the samples will be repatriated soon, including any immortalized cell lines. Furthermore, given the severity of the ethical breeches and violations of Solomon Islanders’ rights, the NIPS considers it critical that Ko respect a ban on any further publications and patent applications that use data from the indigenous blood samples from Solomon Islanders.
The NIPS states it gave a letter to Taiwanese officials during a March 31 2011 meeting at the Taiwanese Embassy in Honiara. This letter discussed pressing issues related to the patent application, including the abandonment of the application.
NIPS President, Mr Donald Marahare, Coordinator Graham Vahia and officer Meffrey Poenjili look forward to cooperating with the ROC Embassy’s First Secretary Mr Thomas Tsai, who will be mediating between responsible authorities in Taiwan and Honiara on this matter.
NIPS reiterate that the Solomon Islands Government must recognise the significance of this case and come up with legal instruments to safeguard its own indigenous citizens from any future biopiracy of human genetic materials and biological resources.
“The 1995 successful blocking of a patent application using genetic materials from Indigenous Solomon Islanders filed for patent application by the US Government’s National Institute of Health coupled with this episode involving Taiwanese researchers acquiring genetic materials from
Solomon Islanders, are timely wake-up call to take effective measures to protect Indigenous Solomon Islanders from any future repeat of genetic materials biopiracy.”
NIPS also acknowledges the cooperation it received from the Solomon Islands Research and Ethical Committee, the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, Mark Munsterhjelm from the University of Windsor in Canada, Ms Neth Dano of the ETC Group, Mr Fiu Elisara of Samoa and all the other resourceful individuals who have assisted with this matter.