VANCOUVER, January 25, 2002 -- Premiers today received a major report from Ontario on genetics, genetic testing and gene patenting and agreed on a recommendation to develop a coordinated framework on genetics at a special Premiers' conference on health in Vancouver.
Conference Chair and British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell, today said that advances in genetic research must balance patient care with the needs of industry. Ontario Premier Mike Harris noted that ensuring that Canadians have access to the major breakthroughs in medical genetics will be a major challenge for every health system and one for which jurisdictions can work collectively to prepare.
Premier Campbell commented: "This is a clear demonstration that provinces and territories are not waiting for reform, we are working out new, collaborative and forward -looking approaches in the most advanced forms of healthcare. This is real progress."
Without coordinated action on the part of governments in this area, health care may become even more costly for the provinces and territories. As a result, some of the great benefits of human genome research may be beyond the capacity of health systems to fully offer to Canadians.
"The human genome is our common heritage, so the benefits of genetic research belong to us all," said Harris. "There must be a balance between rewarding innovation and making these technologies accessible and affordable."
Entitled Charting New Territory in Healthcare, the report follows from the Premiers' Conference last August where Harris promised to deliver a report on this emerging issue. The report provides a comprehensive plan for provinces and territories to work together to prepare their health systems for the changes ahead in such areas as public education, training, test assessment, coordinated delivery, genetic privacy, quality control and oversight.
"As we move forward, we must do so responsibly," said Harris. "We must ensure that we have the right protections and safeguards in place for health-care providers, for researchers and for society. Canadians deserve nothing less."
Patent offices in the United States and Canada have ruled that, if genes can be taken out of the human body, identified and shown to have a "use" of some kind, they can be patented. These genes are often used as the basis of genetic tests to identify people at greater risk of diseases - such as some types of cancer - giving them time to take the necessary steps before the disease appears.
Premiers agreed to continue to work together to develop a coordinated framework to help manage the challenges genetics will increasingly pose for all health systems. Furthermore they called for federal action to balance the need for innovation while ensuring that companies that own the patent on the gene do not prohibit further research, put healthcare providers at legal risk, or smother competition, making predictive genetic tests difficult for hospitals or individuals to afford.
"Even without adequate funding from the federal government, the provinces are working together to make our health-care system work," said Harris. "But, if Ottawa doesn't act to revise the Patent Act soon, monopolies may use their patents to push the cost of predictive genetic tests beyond what we can afford."