#BTColumn – Bioethics in a Barbadian Pharmaceutical Industry

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author(s) do not represent the official position of Barbados TODAY.

By Melissa A. Goddard PhD

Just in October, the Minister of Education, Technology and Vocational Training accepted responsibility for an investigation that allegedly collected sensitive and identifying information from school-aged children without the informed consent and permission of parents. or tutors. In many places, similar incidents are considered major breaches of bioethics; the Nuremberg Code emphasizes the need for consent without coercion, omission or deception. Yet, as of this writing, no penalties have been reported for those responsible.

Plans for the development of a pharmaceutical industry in Barbados have now been announced, with a stated focus on mRNA-derived products. This means entering the complicated field of so-called biopharmaceuticals or biotherapeutics – products with a biological source such as cells, genetic material or blood.

Given this source, biopharmaceuticals require skillful and conscious management to navigate what can be many bioethical pitfalls, some of which vary country-specifically. It’s not as simple as ticking regulatory boxes for manufacturing or finding jobs for some students, and ethics boards aren’t designed to handle that burden on their own. Indeed, Cuba’s strong foothold in pharmaceuticals in the region has lasted for decades to bear good fruit as they have developed supportive and culturally appropriate regulatory and research systems.

Barbados cannot expect to establish a reputable pharmaceutical industry if local leaders are opaque about its regulatory planning or refuse to enforce breach protections. Security, efficiency and transparency must be fundamental elements of this process. Especially with biotherapies, where there are as many risks as promises.

It cannot be name abandonment or political support, loyalty and reputation. Instead, policy makers should put aside ego, fame and personal feelings and do what is necessary for the people of Barbados: our needs, our goals and our development. There are standards that must be transparently established and enforced at the government level, and systems based on our unique situation should be in place – from the lab to the clinic – long before the first interest is signed.

We need Barbadian voices at the table who know biopharmaceutical development and know it well. We need Bajans around the table who understand the existing resources and how to bring them into the 21st century in a way that is best for independent Barbados, not America, Europe or Africa, and which does not recreate our colonial models, even incidentally. We need Bajans at the table who know the history of biotherapy and the lessons you need to learn to work safely in this space.

And we already have these Bajans. Over the past two decades, Barbados has invested millions in training a number of professionals who should meet these criteria. Policymakers simply need to get better at including these experts and their recommendations, rather than approaching them as political minuses to be co-opted or brushed aside.

Barbados has the bones to become a biomedical powerhouse, but that is exactly what makes us vulnerable, should we take a misstep. This should have been learned in the early 2000s with the Vita Nova stem cell incident, but it seems to have been lost in the recent investigation.

Leaders should ensure that any pharmaceutical industry they tout has a solid bioethical and regulatory foundation, based on advice from Barbadian expertise. Or they risk wasting all of our empty, distracting bragging potential.

Melissa A. Goddard PhD, Physiology and Pharmacology (Regenerative Medicine) Molecular Biology and Genetics. She is an independent biomedical researcher. This column was offered as a letter to the editor.

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