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KAST calls for loosening up of law on bioethics

Korea may be held back from innovation due to restrictions
Oct 02,2017
The Korean Academy of Science and Technology (KAST), a prominent society of top scientists, pushed for greater flexibility in the application of gene correction technology Friday.

In an announcement, the group called for the amendment of the 47th article of Korea’s Bioethics and Biosafety Act, following longstanding dissatisfaction with government restrictions hindering domestic progress in bioengineering.

“No actual research on gene therapy is possible now with current regulations,” KAST President Lee Myung-chul said, “We have to stimulate research by reaching a national consensus on the right balance between life sciences and bioethics.”

The first clause of the 47th article of the law permits the application of gene therapy only for the treatment of genetic disorders, cancer, AIDS, life-threatening diseases that have no known cure and diseases where gene therapy has been guaranteed to produce significantly better results.

The United States and most other countries only ban gene therapy on embryonic or reproductive cells, and place no limits on the types of diseases that can be treated. If Korea’s laws on gene therapy are “positive” in the sense that they specify which diseases can be treated, many countries have “negative” laws allowing gene therapy to be conducted in most cases unless specifically noted.

The regulations forced Kim Jin-soo, head of the Center for Genome Engineering at Korea’s Institute for Basic Science (IBS), to credit the successful correction of a mutated human embryo last August to his project partner Oregon Health and Science University in the United States, though he himself had developed the “genetic scissors” technology.

“Genetic scissors” is an advanced corrective technology used to cut sections of DNA and position them elsewhere, potentially allowing doctors to treat the root cause of genetic disorders.

The global market for gene therapy is expected to be worth over 3 trillion won ($2.6 billion) by 2023. Many countries have been eager to get on board with this new form of treatment since its rise in the early 2000s. In Korea, people in the field are concerned that the country will lose out due to heavy regulations.

Kim Byung-dong, an honorary professor at Seoul National University, expressed his fear of Korea being left behind. “Research on life science is advancing quickly in the rest of the world,” he said.

Opposition Bareun Party Rep. Park In-sook also supported the idea of revising the current laws.

BY CHOI JOON-HO [kim.eunjin1@joongang.co.kr]