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Novartis under fire over genetic transplant plans

The Swiss pharmaceuticals giant, Novartis, has been heavily criticised by environmentalists for taking out a European patent on genetically altered living organs used in transplant operations.

Greenpeace claimed the patent proved that life science companies were intent on turning plants, animals and people into market commodities, for the purpose of profit making.

Switzerland's Green Party argued that the patent was nonsensical since any trade in organs is banned by the constitution. Nevertheless both environmental groups are calling on the Swiss government to protest against the patent.

Novartis spokesman, Mark Hill, confirmed on Wednesday that a patent had been issued by the European Patent Office in Munich at the start of May.

He added that the technology was not yet in place to actually implement the new method, but that research was well underway.

The Basel-based company hopes to be able to genetically modify cells and organs prior to transplant operations so as to reduce the chances of host bodies rejecting the foreign implants.

If the method were successful, patients would no longer have to rely on chemical treatments to prevent organ rejection.

The patent was applied for in 1993. Now that it has been granted by the Patents Office, a nine-month period follows in which objections can be made.

Swissinfo with agencies

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