My new book, 100 Plus, is about how science and technology will allow us to live longer and healthier – and how that will change the world. This topic may be newish for this site, but many of the key issues are not. What happens to economic growth in this tech revolution? How does innovation play a part in resolving problems such as environmental waste? Should we be worried about a divide between the haves and the have nots? I address all these questions and more, including the impact on religious institutions. The final chapter of the book details how leaders, including many in the traditional technology industry, are pushing ahead with reverse-engineering the human body – the next big thing.
Here is an excerpt of the book in the Wall Street Journal.
It’s been a tough week for the personal genomics testing marketplace. First there were two long days of FDA meetings, and then today an Energy and Commerce Committee held hearings where the GAO announced the results of a “sting” operation into direct to consumer (DTC) genomics companies. Below is the (brutal) GAO video. As Daniel MacArthur has pointed out, today there exist both legitimate and not-so-legitimate testing firms, but the GAO has lumped them all in together, which will make it easier for pro-regulatory forces to get their hooks into the industry. I urge you to read MacArthur’s entire analysis here, since he follows the industry closely and is saddened by the fact that:
The momentum seems to be well and truly in favour of the bureaucrats now. The prospect of increased regulation (specifically from the FDA) seemed to be enthusiastically received by the Committee today; there was explicit mention of increased money for the FDA to support such a move. The shape of this regulation is as yet unclear, but I’m now extremely pessimistic about the industry’s prospects of escaping excessive, innovation-crushing regulation in the US.
This is very bad news for those of us who wish to see personal medicine flourish.
The conclusions always secure an open-ended role for political bodies to govern private endeavors, and since the business parties are so dependent on political funding, they have to go along with it, cut off from envisioning an alternative approach.
The reports say–brace for it–that governments should fund nanotechnology and study nanotechnology’s risks; and that they should then regulate the technology’s undefined and unknown risks besides. This approach, so different from, say, the way software is produced and marketed, assures that there will never be a “Bill Gates of nanotechnology” (or in another sector, a Bill Gates of biotechnology, as CEI’s Fred Smith often puts it). If every single new advance requires FDA medical-device-style approvals, this is an industry that cannot begin to reach its potential. Continue reading →
Here’s a rather disturbing article published by CNN today. Apparently, many “states mandate that newborns be tested for anywhere between 28 and 54 different conditions, and the DNA samples are stored in state labs for anywhere from three months to indefinitely, depending on the state.”
I live in California and we did have our baby tested for various genetic conditions before he was born. It wasn’t mandated by the state, but now I wonder what happened to the samples after they were collected.
Here’s more from the CNN article:
In many states, such as Florida, where Isabel was born, babies’ DNA is stored indefinitely, according to the resource center. Many parents don’t realize their baby’s DNA is being stored in a government lab, but sometimes when they find out, as the Browns did, they take action. Parents in Texas, and Minnesota have filed lawsuits, and these parents’ concerns are sparking a new debate about whether it’s appropriate for a baby’s genetic blueprint to be in the government’s possession.
Over at Convergences I ponder a version of Mark Lemley’s argument to the effect that confusing patents tied up in administrative disputes are in effect the same as no patents. I write:
I recently read “Patenting Nanotechnology” by law prof Mark Lemley. Excitement about (and fear of) nanotechnology seems to be waning rather than waxing. The article nonetheless includes a curiously paradoxical line of argument about intellectual property that I think is worth setting out in detail.
Presently there is some concern that there are already too many overlapping nanotechnology patents, and/or too many nanotechnology patents that cover basic research concepts as opposed to actual useful products. A number of observers have warned that these patents could interfere with ongoing nanotechnology research. This is a familiar theme over the past couple decades of patent scholarship.
Of course, patents (with all their warts) were around during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, too, when a lot of important advances were made in technology. All kinds of things from sewing machines to radios were developed, and it all worked out okay in spite of much patent nonsense being involved.
Now, here is where Mark comes up with a twist on the familiar arguments. To help make his paper about nanotechnology more interesting, he seems to want to build up the case that nanotechnology is different from earlier technologies, so that the patent system might cause problems for nano that they did not cause for earlier technologies. So he goes through each earlier technology in some detail, and argues that in each case, in effect, for each of these key earlier technologies, patent protection was in effect non-existent. In the case of sewing machines, for example, the patents were tied up in litigation; in the case of radio, WWI intervened and the patents were taken over by the government.
Therefore, he argues, nanotechnology will be the first important technology that is in effect actually protected by patents. He goes on to conclude that there is no reason to worry about this yet. This conclusion seems sensible enough. So… what?
With his argument that previous key technologies were in effect devoid of patent protection as a practical measure, even though they were patented, well, he’s created a mythical monster, the worm who eats his own tail. I don’t think he fully realizes this, so I will play with the idea a little bit.
For the results of my exploration, kindly visit Convergences.
Tomorrow, Friday, Oct. 2, the Information Economy Project at the George Mason University School of Law will hold a conference on Michael Heller’s new book The Gridlock Economy. Surprisingly Free will be streaming live video of the the conference kick-off debate between Heller and Richard Epstein at 8:30 a.m. (It will also be available for download later for folks allergic to early mornings.)
Called “Tragedies of the Gridlock Economy: How Mis-Configuring Property Rights Stymies Social Efficiency,” the conference will
explore a paradox that broadly affects the Information Economy. Property rights are essential to avoid a tragedy of the commons; defined properly, such institutions yield productive incentives for creation, conservation, discovery and cooperation. Applied improperly, however, such rights can produce confusion, wasteful rent-seeking, and a tragedy of the anti-commons.
This conference, building on Columbia University law professor Michael Heller’s book, The Gridlock Economy, tackles these themes through the lens of three distinct subjects: “patent thickets,” reallocation of the TV band, and the Google Books copyright litigation.
In the meantime, check out this video of Michael Heller at Google giving his elevator pitch.
Here’s an informative article from h+ magazine on how the FDA currently argues that culturing adult stem cells amounts to the creation of a new drug. This of course would mean long time lags for getting stem cell procedures approved, which has prompted the creation of at least two groups: the American Stem Cell Therapy Association (ASCTA) and Safe Stem Cells NOW! (both focused on adult stem cells).
It doesn’t make sense to me that my own cells would be considered a “drug,” but Dr. Christopher J. Centeno who was interviewed for this article by Stephen Coles says that “The FDA is working to protect the interests of Big Pharma.” Yikes — if that’s the case, it’s a huge setback for personalized medicine.
Forensic experts are increasingly relying on DNA as “a genetic eyewitness,” says Jack Ballantyne, associate director for research at the National Center for Forensic Science at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, who is studying whether a DNA sample can reveal a person’s age. “We’d like to say if the DNA found on a bomb fragment comes from the young man who carried the bomb or from the wizened old mastermind who built it.”
The push to predict physical features from genetic material is known as DNA forensic phenotyping, and it’s already helped crack some difficult investigations. In 2004, police caught a Louisiana serial killer who eyewitnesses had suggested was white, but whose crime-scene DNA suggested — correctly — that he was black. Britain’s forensic service uses a similar “ethnic inference” test to trace murderers and rapists.
It goes almost without saying that the first impulse of many is to ban this evolving area of technology:
Worried about the ethical and social challenges, Germany doesn’t permit the forensic use of DNA to infer ethnicity or physical traits. Nor do a handful of U.S. states, including Indiana, Wyoming and Rhode Island. The U.K. and the Netherlands allow it.
The main downside I can see to the use of this technology in crime-fighting is that it would be disastrous for the genre of crime fiction. While it certainly sounds like something out of GATTACA (my favorite movie of all time), it would have killed the plot: The genetic-GESTAPO probably would have known that our genetically-defective hero Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) was not in fact, the genetically-engineered-but-crippled superman Jerome Morrow (Jude Law) he claimed to be—and the whole plot would have gone up in smoke. How much fun would that have been?
Interestingly, it seems Hulu once made the entire film available online but no longer does so. Fie on them and their conspiracy to suppress the future! Damn it, Hulu, don’t you know that “There Is No Gene For The Human Spirit?”
The news of octuplets born recently near Los Angeles shocked many people, especially since the mother, Nadya Suleman, already had six children and is reported to be jobless and living with her parents. Such rare stories certainly sell newspapers, but they can also lead to knee-jerk calls for overly restrictive regulation, which threaten freedom and innovation.
Already, comment boards and blogs around the Web are rife with calls for greater government oversight of the reproductive technology field. Yet Nadya Suleman’s story is atypical and obscures the great strides being made in assisted reproduction due to the reality that the field is relatively free from bureaucratic interference. An international comparison illustrates this point.
Last month, UK newspapers were gushing with the news of the first British baby to be genetically screened before conception for a breast cancer gene. This is great news for the baby, who will now avoid a 50 to 85 percent chance of developing breast cancer, but it is old news for people living in the United States. According to Sean Tipton of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, screening for the BRCA1 cancer gene in embryos has been “common practice for at least five years in the U.S.” If that’s the case, why is Britain only seeing its first baby pre-screened for a damaging cancer gene now? The answer is regulation.
Read more here.