Science  01 Apr 2005:
Vol. 308, Issue 5718, pp. 33

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  1. India Rewrites Patent Laws

    1. Pallava Bagla

    In a move drawing praise from drug companies and complaints from public health activists, the Indian Parliament last week passed a new patent law. The law paves the way for India's entry into the World Trade Organization.


    India exports an estimated $4 billion worth of generic drugs each year. Most were initially developed and marketed by Western drug companies under laws that allow a company to patent processes but not products. The new regime “marks India's commitment to move from imitation to innovation,” says Raghunath Anant Mashelkar, president of the Indian National Science Academy.

    But AIDS activists fear the new law will stifle the flow of cheap generic antiretroviral drugs to poor patients. “New medicines will only be available for the rich, while old treatments will be the only ones available to the poor,” says Ellen ‘t Hoen of the Geneva-based Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. Besides providing protection for medicines, the statute prohibits the patenting of plants and microorganisms. In an effort to keep drugs affordable, the law also requires firms to provide compulsory licenses to competing companies.

  2. U.K. to Review Primate Use

    1. Fiona Proffitt

    Four of the U.K.'s leading medical and scientific organizations have decided to review the scientific and ethical basis for using nonhuman primates in biomedical research.

    Last year, activists forced Cambridge University to abandon plans for a primate research center (Science, 30 January 2004, p. 605) and halted construction of an animal research facility at Oxford University (Science, 23 July 2004, p. 463). But a spokesperson for the Royal Society, one of the groups involved, says the impetus for the review is scientific advances in alternatives to animal testing, not increasing pressure from animal-rights groups. The Academy of Medical Sciences, Medical Research Council, and Wellcome Trust are also participating.

    In a statement, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection welcomed the effort but worried that it “will be little more than propaganda to alleviate growing scepticism amongst the general public.”

  3. Basic Microbiology Pushed

    1. Jocelyn Kaiser

    Seventy-seven intramural scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have joined calls for more funding of nonbiodefense microbiology.

    In a 17 March letter to Director Elias Zerhouni, they argue that support is declining for basic microbiology. Although the plea echoes an open letter signed by more than 700 academic scientists last month (Science, 4 March, p. 1409) and cites similar grants data, the scientists are careful not to blame the purported drop on biodefense spending. The letter, organized by Michael Yarmolinsky of the National Cancer Institute, asks Zerhouni to form a committee to review the situation. NIH officials say support for nonbiodefense grants has held steady (see p. 49).

  4. Rees to Head Royal Society

    1. Daniel Clery

    Astrophysicist Martin Rees is in line to become president of the U.K.'s Royal Society. Holder of the honorary title Astronomer Royal and a professor at Cambridge University, the 62-year-old Rees has studied compact objects such as neutron stars and black holes and promoted the idea that quasars and active galactic nuclei are powered by supermassive black holes.

    Next month the society's fellows will vote on the nominee, who would succeed ecologist Robert May and serve a 5-year term. “It's a great honor,” says Rees.

  5. Report Finds Pay Imbalance

    1. Yudhijit Bhattacharjee

    Women are paid 2% to 4% less than men at five of the six nonweapons laboratories of the Department of Energy (DOE), according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The investigation also found that minorities at one of the six, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, earn 2% less than whites in similar positions.

    Released last week, the report comes a year after employees at weapons lab Los Alamos National Laboratory filed a lawsuit alleging wage discrimination against Hispanics and women. Employee groups that the GAO interviewed for the study complained of lack of support from senior management for efforts aimed at providing equal opportunity to women and minorities.

    DOE has questioned the accuracy of GAO's findings, arguing that the study used a flawed statistical analysis. Besides, says Leah Dever, acting chief operating officer in the agency's Office of Science, the responsibility for ensuring fair treatment of employees at the labs rests with individual contractors and not with DOE.