First Iceland, then Estonia, now the people of Tonga have been sold out to a biotechnology company. Autogen Ltd, an Australia-based firm, has secured exclusive rights over the entire Tongan gene pool - some 110,000 people. Moreover, the people of Tonga have not been told about the deal, signed by their government Nov 2000.
Biotech companies consider all Polynesians valuable 'genetic assets' as they are isolated populations and keep accurate records of all their family groupings. Exposure to western diet means many Tongans now suffer from western diseases and Autogen intends to use Tongan DNA to make links between disease and gene. They will hunt for new drugs and treatments for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hyper-tension, cancers and ulcers. Autogen stands to make billions from the development of new drugs or treatments that become commer-cialised but it is unlikely that Tongans will reap any benefit.
The company plans to build a small facility next to the national hospital, so as it can gain easy assess to Tongan blood. Genetic pedigrees of family members will be used to aid the hunt for genes, which will be patented.
Autogen is building an intellectual property portfolio that will give them monopoly in market futures. The company is actively negotiating with other Polynesian nations in a move that could make it the only company allowed to perform genetic studies on the entire Polynesian race.
Sources: Austrialian Biotech firms buy¹s Tonga's gene pool. By Vanessa Williams in Melbourne. © 2000 Advertiser Newspapers Ltd. Advertiser (Adelaide) (22/11/2000)