Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Court Decides that Human Genes Cannot Be Patented

Center for Genetics and Society Calls Ruling a Victory for Patients, Consumers and Responsible Research

Jesse Reynolds, 1-510-625-0819 x308, jreynolds [AT]geneticsandsociety[DOT]org
Marcy Darnovsky, 1-510-625-0819 x305, mdarnovsky [AT]geneticsandsociety[DOT]org

The Center for Genetics and Society, a policy research and advocacy group, welcomed yesterday’s District Court decision invalidating patents on genes associated with breast and ovarian cancer, which ruled that human genes cannot be patented because they are products of nature. This and related arguments were central to the lawsuit filed in May 2009 by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation. In support of the suit, the Center for Genetics and Society filed a “friend of the court” brief, together with the Pro-Choice Alliance for Responsible Research, Generations Ahead, the National Women’s Health Network, and Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice.

“Overturning these patents will help patients get better health care at lower costs. It removes an unnecessary and illegitimate obstacle to both medical treatment and medical research,” said Center for Genetics and Society policy analyst Jesse Reynolds.

In the lawsuit, Breast Cancer Action, Our Bodies Ourselves, individual women and breast cancer patients, genetic counselors, four scientific organizations representing more than 150,000 researchers and laboratory professionals, and individual researchers challenge patents held by Myriad Genetics and the University of Utah Research Foundation that give the biotech company exclusive control of two genes associated with an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer, all variations of these genes, and a monopoly over tests to detect them. It represents the first time US courts have ruled on a case on human gene patents.
Myriad Genetics is expected to appeal yesterday’s decision, and many observers believe it will end up in the Supreme Court. If upheld, its implications could be far-reaching. About twenty percent of human genes have already been patented.

“Genetic research is becoming more important to the practice of medicine, and we urgently need public policies to ensure that it is responsibly conducted and that its benefits are widely accessible,” said Marcy Darnovsky, Center for Genetics and Society Associate Executive Director.

For more information:
• The amicus brief of the Center for Genetics and Society et al [PDF]
• “The Battle to Patent Your Genes: The Meaning of the Myriad Case” by Marcy Darnovsky & Jesse Reynolds, The American Interest, Sept-Oct 2009
The Center for Genetics and Society is a non-profit public affairs and policy advocacy organization working to encourage responsible uses and effective societal governance of human genetic and reproductive biotechnologies.

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