Why Patent Genes That Can Provide Cures?

In today’s world everyone seems anxious to get their research patent protected as soon as possible – and rightly so, after all I wouldn’t want someone else ripping off my ideas and research. However, when it comes to health issues and particularly, the recent breast cancer controversy, are we crossing an ethical line by allowing the law to patent protect breast cancer treatments and studies leading to cures? While many medical procedures and research warrant patent protection, are we doing the country a greater disservice by allowing these findings to be restricted to their patent holder? When it comes to health care and medical progress I think the law of patents should take into account the public policy concerns, the problem is where to draw that line. Recently, a U.S. circuit court affirmed the right of Myriad Genetics Inc. to patent genes linked to breast cancer and ovarian cancer. This ruling came after SCOTUS told the court to reexamine the case in light of their ruling in Prometheus Laboratories that unanimously held that companies could not patent observations about natural phenomena. In Myriad Genetic’s case the federal circuit court interpreted the Supreme Court’s ruling to mean that companies could still patent genes, but Myriad could not receive a patent on analyzing DNA sequences.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has granted thousands of patents on human genes approximately 20% of our genes are patented. A gene patent holder has the right to prevent anyone from studying, testing or even looking at a gene. As a result, scientific research and genetic testing has been delayed, limited or even shut down due to concerns about gene patents. Is this really the result we want? The American Civil Liberaties Union, who brought the case against Myriad Genetics argued that patents on human genes restrict medical research and patient’s access to medical care. I think they have a point, but perhaps if we could find a better alternative than strict patenting for such medical research that would still award the researcher, but also give the greatest possible benefit for people everywhere then we could adequately address the ethical issues here. With our patent crazed society this issue is bound to be a prevalent one in the next several years.


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