What is a Gene Patent?
A gene patent is a patent on human genetic sequences. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has granted tens of thousands of patents on human genetic sequences, including a patent on the BRCA gene sequences, held by Myriad Genetics.
Why are Gene Patents Controversial?
The purpose of the patent system is to encourage innovation. However, it is increasingly found that human gene patents appear to be inhibiting biomedical research and interfering with patient care. For example, Myriad Genetics has patents on both the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations. This means Myriad controls the licensing and diagnostic testing fees. Myriad has made these fees so high, some argue they have forced some researchers to discontinue research on breast cancer, thus dramatically slowing research and the information available on BRCA mutations.
However, most breast cancer research and even most BRCA1 and BRCA2 research is not affected by the patent issue. It is possible to test in a lab if no fees are required. The patent may also have made it harder for those who planned a study where they needed to have testing done at an outside lab and could not do it afford it. Myriad has in the past provided discount testing services for many research projects, however they no longer support such programs.
Through this patent, Myriad has control of the cost of the BRCA test, for which they are charging nearly $3000. This has prevented many women and men from having access to testing for BRCA. As seen in Martha’s case, this patent and cost restriction has forced women who cannot afford the test to apply for grants and financial aid that is difficult to obtain.
For more information on gene patenting and Myriad’s controversial gene patent over BRCA, see:
by the American Civil Liberties Union
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