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Ban on patenting genome editing know-how in Russia should be lifted — scientist

The geneticist earlier stated he was going to apply for and obtain permission to edit the genome of an embryo of a future baby of a married couple with hereditary deafness

MOSCOW, February 18. /TASS/. The ban on patenting genome editing techniques in Russia hinders research and development in this field, the deputy chief for science of the N.I. Pirogov Russian Research Medical University, molecular biologist Denis Rebrikov said.

"What obstacles to the development of these technologies do we see today? In Russia and elsewhere in the world for some reason there exists a ban on the legal protection and patenting of methods to modify human embryo cells. I would like to point out that most experts are unanimous that such know-how will be authorized for use some day (if not today, then in the foreseeable future). The existence of such a ban greatly hinders research and development," he told the roundtable meeting Genome Editing Technologies: Ethical and Medical Aspects at Russia’s Civic Chamber on Tuesday.

Rebrikov specified that he was referring to the need for lifting a ban from patenting methods to modify human embryo cells under article 1349 of the Civil Code.

"We are working on different know-hows. Around the world and practically in all fields it is possible to protect know-hows as a result of intellectual activity, to patent them. Meanwhile if we declare that this or that invention is aimed at correcting the embryo’s mutation, then our Civil Code and everybody around the world says that I cannot apply for a patent. As a result, this field is developing more slowly than it could have. Both researchers and companies that order such research are unprepared to invest into fields where they are unable to protect their inventions," Rebrikov told reporters.

He explained that it was totally unnecessary to plant edited embryos into the female body. Embryos can be frozen until the moment the know-how’s feasibility and safety has been proven.

"Frozen embryos might be kept at such a cryobank until the authorities rule it possible to use them. In the meantime we may go ahead with polishing this procedure and testing it on the condition of the parents’ consent," Rebrikov pointed out, adding that the genome editing might be used first thing to correct mutations resulting in grave hereditary diseases.

The director of the Bochkov Research Center for Medical Genetics, president of the Russian Medical Genetics Association, Sergei Kutsev, opined that genome editing was certainly "not an issue on tomorrow’s agenda," but at the same time agreed that such technologies might begin to be used in practice in five to ten years from now.

Genome editing

Russian scientists have spent many months arguing about the right to modify the embryo’s genome. Russian molecular biologist Denis Rebrikov earlier stated he was going to apply for and obtain permission to edit the genome of an embryo of a future baby of a married couple with hereditary deafness. In response Kutsev revealed that he would ask the Health Ministry to impose a freeze on experiments to edit embryos’ genome.

In October 2019, the Healthcare Ministry indicated that granting permission to edit the human genome under clinical conditions would be premature and irresponsible, because at this stage of genome editing technologies likely complications in the short and long term remained unexplored. The Healthcare Ministry said that the World Health Organization adhered to the same stance.