Vernon Keenan vern at BioData.COM
Wed Aug 10 02:22:21 EST 1994

In article <3197dv$5b2 at news.doit.wisc.edu>, lehn at islet.medsch.wisc.edu wrote:

>    Although many people here are speaking in support of the software
> companies I won't.  For the most part the DNA analysis software
> suppliers are greedy self serving S.O.B.s.
>    [inspired prose goes here]

>    I find it truly amazing that these software companies freely
> use algorithims developed with taxpayer money yet are so 
> arrogent in their ways.
> Don

Don, you right that the companies making money in bioinformatics are
essentially reaping the harvest of many years of dedicated effort and
millions of dollars spent on collaborative research in the biology
community. A falicy in your perspective on the issue is the fact you
haven't realized that bioinformatics is now a global commercial enterprise
helping to deliver therapeutic products that improves the lives of
millions of people.

The bioinformatics databases now controlled by the United States
government have nearly infinite commercial value, on the order of a
hundred billion dollars. This fact is not ignored by businesses in
pharmaceutical circles. Witness the success of GeneWorks and MacVector,
the deal between SmithKline Beecham and Human Genome Sciences and over
$200M spent on companies like Incyte, Darwin, Sequana and Millenium as

This brings up a legal problem in U.S. commerce. If the bioinformatics
systems controlled by the U.S. Government have vast commercial value, does
the U.S. Government have the legal right to own these resources? By law,
the U.S. government cannot compete with commercial enterprise. I'm sure
that everyone would agree that no one can complete with the Entrez CD-ROMs
for genetic data distribution. Does the existance of Entrez create an
unfair barrier to a commercial product that delivers the same service? I
think it does.

What I'm suggesting is that the wonderful data collection activity set up
by the Human Genome Project and NCBI may eventually be found to be
anticompetitive to a multibillion dollar commercial bioscience industry
and will be taken away from the U.S. government and privatized.

Moving into 21st centry medicine is not as simple as taking the databases
away from the government, however. What about biodiversity, the concept
that no one person or nation may own the very substance of life? Doesn't
U.S. government and international bodies have at least have an oversight
role in the governance of genomic data and organic samples? Of course they

The very concept of privatization of NCBI may make some people sick, but
it may be an inevitable consequence of U.S. law and the commercialization
of biology. Somehow we need to reconcile the reality of commercial
biotechnology with the needs of humanity and the planet. I don't have the
answers, but I've got plenty of questions!


| Vernon Keenan                 | BioData, Inc.                     |
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| Phone: +1 415-513-8950        | San Mateo, California 94402       |
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