Monday, November 8, 2010

Gene Patenting

On October 29th, the U.S. Justice Department issued a legal brief suggesting that the government's long-standing support of the practice of gene patenting might be coming to an end. The brief, which was issues as part of a landmark gene-patent lawsuit, argues that simply identifying an important DNA sequence is not enough to justify a patent. Instead, the brief argued that DNA sequences that have been manipulated in some way should be patentable.

This "friend-the-court" brief was filed in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation challenging patents held by Myriad Genetics on the human genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 which are associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

Opponents of gene patenting argue that this practice stifles diagnostic testing and research that can lead to cures, as well as potentially limiting patients' options regarding their medical care. Proponants argue that the ability to patent genes has helped the U.S. lead the way in the life sciences, and biotechnology companies claim that gene patents are necessary to protect their investment in research and development. However, other players in genetics may welcome a change. As genetic tests are becoming more complicated and involve larger sets of genes, diagnostic companies worry that they will have to license an every-growing number of patents to put together a single genetic test.

You can read more in the following two articles.

Marshall, Eliot. "Justice Department Raises Doubt on Gene Patents." Science. November 1, 2010

Ledford, Heidi. "U.S. Government Wants Limits on Gene Patents." Nature. November 2, 2010.

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