Exploring how biobanks communicate the possibility of commercial access and its associated benefits and risks in participant documents
Samuel G., Hardcastle F., Broekstra R., Lucassen A.
Abstract Background Biobanks and biomedical research data repositories collect their samples and associated data from volunteer participants. Their aims are to facilitate biomedical research and improve health, and they are framed in terms of contributing to the public good. Biobank resources may be accessible to researchers with commercial motivations, for example, researchers in pharmaceutical companies who may utilise the data to develop new clinical therapeutics and pharmaceutical drugs. Studies exploring citizen perceptions of public/private interactions associated with large health data repositories/biobanks indicate that there are sensitivities around public/private and/or non-profit/profit relationships and international sample and data sharing. Less work has explored how biobanks communicate their public/private partnerships to the public or to their potential research participants. Methods We explored how a biobank’s aims, benefits and risks, and private/public relationships have been framed in public facing recruitment documents (consent forms and participant information sheets). Results Biobank documents often communicate their commercial access arrangements but not the detail about what these interactions would entail, and how risks and benefits would be distributed to the public. Conclusion We argue that this leads to a polarised discourse between public and private entities and/or activities, and fails to attend to the blurred lines between them. This results in a lack of attention to more important issues such as how risks and benefits in general are distributed to the public. We call for a nuanced approach that can contribute to the much-needed dialogue in this space.