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Russian clinical research is threatened by ban on export of samples

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39241.621863.DB (Published 14 June 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:1237
  1. Vasiliy Vlassov
  1. Moscow

    Russia's Federal Customs Service has blocked the export from Russia of all human biological materials, from hair to tissue and blood samples.

    An article in the Russian online newspaper Kommersant says that the decision is thought to have arisen from a report submitted to President Vladimir Putin by the Federal Security Service (formerly the KGB), which warned of the possible development by Western countries of genetic biological weapons against particular nations (www.kommersant.ru/doc-y.html?docId=769777&issueId=36291).

    From the end of May the export of materials for clinical research and samples of blood and tissue is forbidden until further notice. Customs officers do not cite any specific document but say that they are carrying out orders.

    The decision threatens dozens of clinical trials in Russia, because doctors and scientists need to send many samples abroad to be tested. About two thirds of trials in Russia depend on European laboratory services, and about a half of trials may be stopped because they rely on centralised testing.

    The decision also threatens hundreds of patients in Russia who rely on foreign tests for tissue compatibility and such like.

    The clinical trials industry is expanding rapidly in Russia and is thought to be worth between $100m (£50m; €75m) and $150m a year. The government's decision to ban biological exports may have something to do with the struggle to control this growing industry.

    Two recent speeches in Russia promoted the idea that Western countries could be developing weapons that would affect specific ethnic groups. In early June Mikhail Zurabov, Russia's minister of health and social development, said that the development of a genetic weapon against Russia is technically feasible. The next day Andrei Belianinov, head of the Federal Customs Service, was quoted in an interview as saying that the transfer of biomaterials from Russia was equivalent to the “genocide of our nation.” Banning such exports was needed for the “prevention of crime,” he said (Meditsinskaia Gazeta 6 Jun, p 5).

    The Kommersant article said that the secret service report to President Putin named several Western institutions as being involved in the development of genetic weapons against Russia. They included the Harvard School of Public Health, the American International Health Alliance, the US Environment and Natural Resources Division, the US Department of Justice, the Swedish Karolinska Institute, and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency. It also named the Indian Institute for Genomics.

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