Misuse of microbiology

February 20, 1998

WENDY Barnaby is right to urge biologists in academia to think more about the dangers posed by biological weapons, although she has chosen to ignore the work done in this field by institutes such as the Royal Society and the Institute of Biology (THES, February 13).

All scientists, be they in industry or academia, should be concerned over the misuse of the techniques of microbiology and biotechnology and should consider what role they can play to reduce the threat of biological warfare. The pharmaceutical industry has always supported the goals and objectives of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and the ongoing endeavours to strengthen compliance with the convention.

Pharmaceutical companies are engaged in the legitimate use of microbiology and the newly emerging biotechnologies with the sole aim of discovering or developing new life-saving therapies and diagnostics. It is more than mischievous of Ms Barnaby to imply that these companies are engaged in the production of biological weapons.

What on earth is she trying to suggest by calling on biologists to boycott pharmaceutical companies? Companies have a right to protect their confidential, commercial and proprietary information from frivolous accusations and from unnecessary and potentially harmful inspections.

At the same time, Ms Barnaby, as author of a book on this topic, will know that the United Kingdom pharmaceutical industry has for some time worked closely with the national authorities to help identify measures for strengthening the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention in such a way that does not impair the legitimate use and continuing development of biology and biotechnology in industry and academia.

Jeff Kipling Director of science and technology Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry

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