May 30, 2024

BRCA gene patent struck down

Case will be appealed

In a landmark decision, a Federal judge in
the US has struck down patents linked to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes which make
women susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer. Myriad Genetics, of Utah, has patented
the two genes and charges US$3,000 for a test which shows whether women are
more likely to be struck down by cancer. The decision is sure to be appealed.

Patient groups, medical organisations and
free speech advocates were delighted. According to the New York Times, they had
argued that “genes, products of nature, fall outside of the realm of things
that can be patented. The patents, they argued, stifle research and innovation
and limit testing options.”

US District Court Judge Robert Sweet
agreed. In his 152-page judgement he said that the patent was “a ‘lawyer’s
trick’ that circumvents the prohibition on the direct patenting of the DNA in
our bodies but which, in practice, reaches the same result.”

The case obviously raises fundamental
issues about what “nature” is, but American lawyers also interpreted it as a
case of free speech. “The human genome, like the structure of blood, air or
water, was discovered, not created,” said Chris Hansen, a lawyer with the
American Civil Liberties Union. “There is an endless amount of information on
genes that begs for further discovery, and gene patents put up unacceptable
barriers to the free exchange of ideas.” 

Supporters of gene patents forecast that
the decision, if upheld, would cripple the development of personalized
medicine. “The genetic tools to solve the major health problems of our time
have not been found yet,” commented patent lawyer Edward Reines. “These are the
discoveries we want to motivate by providing incentives to all the researchers
out there.” ~ New York
Times, Mar 29


Michael Cook
gene patents
genetic testing