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Thread: Should companies be able to "own" genes and forbid others to use the genes?

  1. #1

    Should companies be able to "own" genes and forbid others to use the genes?

    http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/20...atent-lawsuit/

    Federal court hearings continued Tuesday on a lawsuit that could transform biotechnology in the United States by eliminating gene patents.

    The case hinges around the claims of Utah-based Myriad Genetics on BRCA1 and BRCA2, a pair of genes closely linked to breast and ovarian cancer. Myriad “owns” the genes, and says its patents make it possible to profit on diagnostic tests. The company argues that if you remove the patents, the tests — indeed, commercial biotechnology as we know it — will vanish.

    A coalition of civil rights, research and women’s health groups is fighting the patents. They argue that Myriad’s claims stifle innovation by discouraging researchers from looking at the genes, which are still not fully understood, and say Myriad’s monopoly limits women’s health choices. More broadly, the claims set a precedent for other gene patents, which now cover about one-fifth of the human genome.

    “Allowing patents on genetic material imposes real and severe limits on scientific research, learning and the free flow of information,” said Chris Hansen, an attorney with the America Civil Liberties Union, in a press release.

    At Tuesday’s hearing, defense attorney Brian Poissant insisted that “‘women would not even know they had BRCA gene if it weren’t discovered’ under a system that incentivizes patents,” reported GenomeWeb Daily News.

    But much of the scientific community rejects Myriad’s case. Roughly 150,000 researchers are represented by associations that have filed court briefs supporting the plaintiffs. Among them are the American Medical Association, American Society of Human Genetics and March of Dimes.

    In his recent book, The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine, National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins also argued against broad gene patents.

    “The information contained in our shared instruction book is so fundamental, and requires so much further research to understand its utility, that patenting it at the earliest stage is like putting up a whole lot of unnecessary toll booths on the road to discovery,” he wrote.

    In May, the court rejected Myriad’s request that the case be thrown out without a trial. During Tuesday’s hearing, the plaintiffs asked to be declared victorious without a trial. A decision is expected to take several months.



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  2. #2
    Senior Member FasterNow's Avatar
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    Great question. I've often found myself wondering how and why patents are granted for things that exist in nature. Patenting processes to purify/isolate/ or improve a thing, maybe, but not the thing itself. In the case of a gene, patenting a manmade improved gene should be allowed, but patenting a gene seems to me ludicrous, and counterproductive to science.

    The patent office has had to deal with a lot of new ideas of what can be patented in the last few decades. It will take a while to sort this all out.
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    Senior Member FasterNow's Avatar
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    News on this subject for any interested.

    "...Like it or not, the claim that a company can "own" a human gene has been dealt a serious body blow by the U.S. federal court system and stands a few more blows away from a knockout. The U.S. leads the world in biotechnology and genetics research -- so whatever legal precedent is set in the U.S. will likely have a profound affect on the law in Japan, China, India, the EU, and elsewhere."

    http://www.dailytech.com/Federal+Cou...ticle18033.htm
    Injured 7-22-06, T-11 T-12 complete. [Holds up cardboard sign] "Will work for returns."
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    Senior Member Foolish Old's Avatar
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    This is why the profit motive fails as the best model to provide health care. Keeping medical advances proprietary so that they may be rationed by price is unconscionable while sick people get sicker because they can not afford known effective treatments.

    My question to those who oppose government (taxpayer) funding of research and treatment is the following:

    How do you provide for affordable goods and services that are vital to the public good but are restricted (or ignored) to meet the demands (or because they cannot meet the demands) of the profit motive?
    Foolish

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