Genomics and global health

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.324.7345.1051 (Published 04 May 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:1051

Hype, reality, and a call for action in the developing and the developed world

  1. Tikki Pang (pangt@who.int), director, research policy and cooperation,
  2. David Weatherall, regius professor of medicine emeritus
  1. World Health Organization, CH-1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland
  2. Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, University of Oxford, Oxford OX3 9DS

    The current revolution in genomics, culminating in the sequencing of the human genome, has tremendous potential to improve health globally. Of particular interest is how these advances will affect the health of people living in the developing countries. The reality that much of the advances in genomics were made, and in part are owned, by the developed world has given rise to the concern that a genomics divide will be created that will further widen the equity gap in health between rich and poor nations.1 In fact, genomics and related technologies should be used to narrow the existing unethical inequities in global health. A report soon to be released by the World Health Organization focuses on this inequity and points out, for example, that some 80% of investments in 2000 and DNA patents in genomics in the period 1980-93 are held in the United States.2 Of the 1233 new drugs marketed between 1975 and 1999, only 13 were approved specifically for tropical diseases.2

    The sequencing of the genomes of numerous microbial pathogens and ongoing efforts to sequence the genomes of mosquito vectors (for example, Anopheles gambiae) promise benefits in the shorter term for the control of communicable diseases.3 Fosmidomycin, originally developed for treatment of recurrent urinary …

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