UK Biobank: consequences for commons and innovation

Huzair, Farah and Papaioannou, Theo (2012). UK Biobank: consequences for commons and innovation. Science and Public Policy, 39(4) pp. 500–512.



Biobanks as collections of population level genetic and health data will be central to the innovation of new drugs and drug targets. The UK Biobank, funded by massive public and charitable investment, was created to store and manage the genetic and health data of over 500,000 people in the UK. The UK Biobank will be available to researchers from both private and public sectors, and is intended to support innovation and serve the public good. We argue that the UK Biobank faces a dilemma in that the knowledge generated is potentially commercialisable and patentable. As knowledge resulting it is transformed into excludable or private goods by scarcity and patenting, it is subject to the tragedies of commons and anti-commons. We question whether the current ethics and governance framework can ensure that benefits will optimally accrue to the public who have funded and contributed samples to the resource.

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