, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp 99-105
Date: 17 Jul 2013

Synthetic biology: ensuring the greatest global value

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Abstract

Synthetic biology (SynBio) has tremendous, transformative potential. Like other technologies, it can be used for good or ill. Currently, the structure of the allocation of potential benefits and risks is biased in favor of richer countries. The underlying problem is simple: most risks from SynBio are universal and affect both the rich and the poor with equal force; but benefits from SynBio can be expected to accrue chiefly to the rich. The risk/benefit balance is therefore skewed in a way that may lead to inefficient and unfair decisions. One potential solution is presented in this paper, using the principles that underlie the Health Impact Fund (HIF). The HIF is designed to reward companies based on assessed health impact, no matter where it occurs in the world, so that extending the life of a poor person is as profitable as extending the life of a rich person. This paper considers both the potential benefits and costs of SynBio; examines how the current global pharmaceutical industry is structured; introduces the HIF proposal; and finally explores how the principles underlying the HIF could be used productively with SynBio for global health.