Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Judge overturns Gene Patents

Gene patents are something few Americans think about, but they are something that may transform our lives in the coming decades. Under current case law, anyone who discovers a new gene can patent it. Anyone. Not the person who has the gene in their DNA. Many patients, while being tested for unusual conditions, have had their doctor patent their own genes, which are then sold to pharmaceutical companies so treatments can be created that are worth millions. The practice is defended because it takes millions to fund the research to find new treatments.

But now, a judge has overturned gene patents. This may change the face of genetic engineering and medical treatments.

In the ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Sweet in New York state invalidated part of seven patents granted to Myriad on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. In doing so, he might have changed the face of genomic medicine.

"This really goes to the fundamental question of 'Does the U.S. patent system work?' " says Richard Marsh, Myriad's general counsel. "We spent hundreds of millions of dollars until we broke even before we got (the test) out, to fund the research."

Without the patent on the gene, investors wouldn't have put in money to support Myriad during those lean years, he says. It's only now, when the company is actually making money, that people feel it's unfair. "Where were these people 10 years ago?"
The question of gene patents is not merely academic. They have been partially responsible for the advances produced by the DNA Revolution, by giving a profit motive for finding every disease-related gene out there. But they also restrict the scope of these treatments - companies discover ways to save life, and then deny them without exorbitant payments.

The decision that we make now may decide whether American stays at the forefront of genetic research. Or whether these advances ever reach the average citizen.

1 comment:

marry said...

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