Thursday 14 May 2009

health firm dragged into court for patenting cancer gene

The firm has claimed a patent on the gene which is a precursor for cancer, and used that patent to set up an effective monopoly, so that only that firm can give patients tests. No second opinions, no increased innovation through competition. Savor the irony of Corporate America bitterly resisting the notion of competition from the market.

The firm is also refusing to work with one plaintiff's health insurer, so she can get the tests to confirm increased susceptibility for cancer.

At issue here is not an attempt to patent a discovery, or a technique, or anything of the kind: the firm wants to patent the gene itself -- a human body part. It's like trying to patent the appendix or the gall bladder.

These guys know better. There is a difference between an invention, which can be proprietary, and a discovery, which cannot. Patenting the discovery of a gene is like patenting the discovery of fire or gravity -- complete nonsense.

Another firm has claimed a patent on a gene syndrome which can be a precursor to heart irregularities and sudden death. Because those are areas in which we don't need the quicker answers that market-driven competition would provide, right?

Then there's this:

In the future, genetic tests are likely to involve the analysis of many genes at once, or even of a person’s full set of genes. Some 20 percent of the human genome is already included in patent claims, amounting to thousands of individual genes, says a draft report from the National Institutes of Health. The report warns that “it may be difficult for any one developer to obtain all the needed licenses” to develop the next generations of tests.

So much for the future of medical research...

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