Human Genome Project and pharmaceutical companies
by Kerry Ans The cataloguing of the three billion instructions that form a blueprint for human life — the Human Genome Project — has been hailed by scientists in both socialist and capitalist countries as a major scientific step forward. The main benefits to the human species are seen to be, at the moment, in the area of health. Whilst most scientists acknowledge that there are social, legal and ethical issues related to the outcomes of the project, many seem to presume that nation states and multi-nation agencies will be able to manage the worst excesses of these. The reality, in a global economy that is dominated by the multinational companies and nation states which see their citizens' interests as synonymous with capital's, is that these related social and ethical issues will not be managed in the interests of ordinary people. News reports of the human genome achievements have been dominated by predictions of accelerating pharmaceutical advances. The major drug manufacturers' trade association in the US has claimed the project is changing the very way drug development is now conceived. The business sections of major papers in the US contain reports of ever- growing numbers of genomics companies which are finding a variety of ways to make money out of the project. According to two scientists, Daughton and Ternes, writing in a respected, peer-reviewed journal (
Environmental Health Perspectives), the range of pharmaceuticals will continue to diversify exponentially as the project is advanced. Their major concern is that the current load of pharmaceuticals is already causing large environmental health problems, both in the quality of waterways and in landfill. They say that huge quantities of prescription drugs, diagnostic agents, and a wide range of other compounds are entering the environment without any regulation or examination of adverse environmental effects. Given that significant numbers of pharmaceuticals are designed to change immune and endocrine systems, and can be long-lasting in the environment, their presence in waterways and in sewerage sludge mixed with soil is great cause for health concerns. If there is so little monitoring of the current (mainly capitalist) pharmaceutical regime on the health environment, the probability of being able to manage the expected proliferation of new pharmaceutical products is low. Half of the world's population die from malnutrition and diseases caused by lack of access to safe water and food. The excesses of the pharmaceutical companies in their quest for more profits, now accelerated by the human genome project, will do very little to solve this basic global health problem.