BMJ 1996; 312 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.312.7037.1048 (Published 20 April 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;312:1048

The commercial if not the ethical case for patenting gene fragments is clear cut, and between 1981 and 1994, 1175 patents were granted for human DNA sequences (Nature 1996;380:387-8), three quarters of them to private Japanese or US companies. Europe, despite its strong track record and large investment in genomic research, has failed to secure patents because its priority has been early release of sequence data into the public domain. Policies must change if European companies are to compete in the race to develop new genetic diagnostic and therapeutic products.

A case-control study in the United States reported in the “American Journal of Public Health” (1996;86:249-53) has shown that congenital anomalies of the urinary tract were twice as common in the infants of women who smoked during pregnancy as in those of non-smoking women. The risk was lower in heavy smokers than in light smokers—an odd finding.

Of 199 patients with fever of unknown origin admitted to a university hospital in Belgium, 61 were discharged with no diagnosis having been made (Archives of Internal Medicine 1996;136:618-20). They were followed up for an average of six years. Thirty one became free of symptoms, usually quite quickly; a clear diagnosis was reached in 12; but in 18 the unexplained fever persisted for months or years, and …

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