The future of proteomics  pg. 3

White: If you consider a complete cessation of all research and development an impact, I would agree.

I don’t see why a right-minded public company would spend anything on developing a drug if they weren’t going to be able to have patent protection around it. It costs a billion dollars or so to develop a drug. Most companies are not inclined to do that so that somebody can steal it from them.

As a matter of principle, patent protection in pharmaceutics is just as important as it is in any other commercial endeavor.

Lens: What are the barriers beyond the science – financial, political, and social?

Hunkapiller: I would certainly say that the stem cell issue and the ethics surrounding that could easily become one of the bigger obstacles to understanding how some of these biological systems work and, more importantly, figuring out ways of translating that knowledge into practical benefits.

It is one of the areas in which the potential for using a lot of this information in a pretty dramatic way to impact people’s health would seem to be pretty astounding, and I personally would hate to see the politics of that override the benefit of it.

White: I guess I’d put it another way. I think the stem cell debate was a very instructive one, in that you took a scientific initiative, and it was kidnapped by people with a different agenda. I’m not favoring either side. I’m simply saying that people with other social agendas try to insert themselves into science in fairly ignorant ways.

Cloning is another one. Leave it up to the people who want to alarm society, and who want to take their own agenda and insert it into the scientific debate, absent an educated public they’ll get away with it.

People need to be better informed about this science before they start talking. Unfortunately, that is not the way politicians typically work. They usually start talking and somewhere along the way they find out what they’re saying.

Hunkapiller: I’d add a second area where I think the complication of some of this knowledge has been put into a debate in which people with different agendas have captured the media attention as well, and that’s in the whole area of genetically modified food.

To some degree, one can understand the concern. I think that a lot of the companies that started to use the technology went about it not in an inappropriate manner, but they may have chosen the wrong first targets. The big seed companies that were also big herbicide companies tended to promote the use of the technology in a way that would foster their interest as opposed to highlighting the benefit for the public.

We can argue about whether we need corn that is resistant (to insects), but if we go to third-world countries where nutrition is a key to survival, having crops there that provide vitamins the population could not get otherwise is a pretty big deal. And people there, I think, would laugh at the arguments that go on in the U.S. and some countries in Europe.

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