Bioethics Blogs

Who Will Pay for Human Germline Changes?

The National Academies summit on human germline gene editing has dominated discussion over the last few months, with talk about international agreements and a voluntary moratorium or formal ban. But perhaps those of us concerned about the prospect have been looking in the wrong direction. Consider this scenario:

A multi-billionaire becomes fascinated by synthetic biology. He starts with a fairly small company, and decides to turn it into a big one without using venture capital. His goal is to make it “the Google of the life sciences.” Among the acquisitions and partnerships he makes are:

  • a company developing personalized cell and gene therapies using iPS cells
  • an animal cloning company (both the agricultural and pet markets)
  • a biopharmaceutical company focused on cancer immunotherapies
  • a drug development and delivery company
  • a company that makes genetically modified fish (even before selling them was legal)
  • a company that makes genetically modified apples
  • a company pushing hard into multiple IVF markets around the world, with
  • products not currently legal in the U.S., and
  • research into human egg precursors with the explicit intention of producing hundreds of eggs and possibly embryos — and the ambition of editing them

In short, lots of private money, deep connections with the pharmaceutical industry, a major focus on synthetic biology, a willingness to jump borders for legal convenience, a deep interest in reproductive technologies, and the clear intention to work on “enhancing” embryos.

That could turn into a nightmare. But it’s real, and it’s happening now.

The billionaire is Randal Kirk, the main company Intrexon, which cannily snagged the URL dna.com.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.