Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Gene Patents

If you didn't know, about 20% of all human genes are currently patented by companies or universities. This is important to people wanting genetic tests. Myriad Genetics is probably the most profitable of these organizations, having secured rights to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. You are at increased risk for breast, uterine and possibly colon cancer if you have mutations in these genes. If you have a family history of one of these cancers, knowledge of the mutation can help decide treatment. But the price of the test is around $3000, which can be argued is the price for innovation or conversely, the effect of a monopoly.

Yesterday, the financial security of gene patent-owning companies fell into question when a District Court judge invalidated gene patents on BRCA1 and BRCA2. This could open the floodgates to more affordable genetic tests or stifle R&D, depending on who you ask. But the upshot for this New Haven Resident is that the Laboratory Medicine Resident I'm married to may have a different way of doing things in the near future. (Lab medicine physicians are the docs who do and send off tests in hospitals.)

Indeed, the NYTimes article about this case cites a leader of the Lab Medicine professional society as calling the decision “a big deal.”

“It’s good for patients and patient care, it’s good for science and scientists,” he said. “It really opens up things.”
I'm sure the folks at ScienceBlogs will be picking this story up. Indeed, check out what Genetic Future and The Questionable Authority have written. We will see how the appeals process works with this one.

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