Can Human Genes Be Patented?
2013-04-15 0:00

By Nina Totenberg | NPR



Same-sex marriage got huge headlines at the Supreme Court last month, but in the world of science and medicine, the case being argued on Monday is far more important. The lawsuit deals with a truly 21st century issue — whether human genes may be patented.

Myriad Genetics, a Utah biotechnology company, discovered and isolated two genes — BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 — that are highly associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. Myriad patented its discovery, giving it a 20-year monopoly over use of the genes for research, diagnostics and treatment. A group of researchers, medical groups and patients sued, challenging the patent as invalid.

There is no way to overstate the importance of this case to the future of science and medicine. In the view of Myriad and its supporters in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries, patents are the keys to making these medical discoveries possible. Their opponents, including leading medical groups and Nobel Prize-winning scientists, contend that Myriad’s patent improperly puts a lock on research and medical diagnostic testing.

The U.S. patent system, authorized in the Constitution, gives temporary economic incentives to inventors to advance science. The general rules of the patent system have been established in statutes and Supreme Court case law for over 150 years. You can’t patent a product of nature or a law of nature. It doesn’t matter that the task was difficult or costly. Nature is immune to patents. So, even though it may have taken Einstein a long time to figure out that E=mc2, he couldn’t have patented that law of nature.

’Could You Patent The Sun?’

Until relatively recently, much of the medical profession disdained patents, except as a means to ensure quality. When Dr. Jonas Salk, the inventor of the revolutionary polio vaccine, was asked in 1955 whether he had a patent on the vaccine, he replied, "There is no patent ... could you patent the sun?"

Myriad Genetics, however, contends that the genes it isolated are not like the sun. Mark Capone, president of Myriad Genetics Laboratories, notes that the 20,000 genes in the human body are part of a 6-foot-long molecule that’s "coiled and compacted and stuffed into each cell." And, he says, "What Myriad was able to do is sort through all those 20,000 genes and find the two that were highly linked to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer."

The gene is like "a single grain of sand" hidden in a building the size of the Empire State Building, says Gregory Castanias, Myriad’s lawyer. He will tell the justices that isolating the two genes justifies a patent because "it is the final step in an extraordinarily complicated set of inventive actions that led to the creation of this molecule, which had never been available to the world before."

Not so, say those challenging the patent. Human genes are products of nature. They are an essential part of the human body. "All Myriad does is take a part of the body out of the body," says the challengers’ lawyer, Christopher Hansen of the . "It is no different than taking a kidney out of the body. Just because you are the [first] person who takes the kidney out of the body doesn’t entitle you to a patent on kidneys."

[...]

Read the full article at: NPR.org







Related Articles
A 3D Printer That Generates Human Embryonic Stem Cells
UK Public OK with creating babies from 3 people to avoid genetic diseases
Are genes our destiny? ’Hidden’ code in DNA evolves more rapidly than genetic code
Creating a Surveillance and DNA Database for Every American . . . From the Cradle to the Grave
Teenager astounds scientists by building a DNA testing machine in his bedroom
Gun Shoots DNA Bullets to Tag Criminals
Four-strand DNA structure found in cells
Verizon patents targeted advertising method that determines if viewers are laughing, cuddling, sleeping or singing
Open Seeds: Biopiracy and the Patenting of Life


Latest News from our Front Page

Aurora Shooting Victim Parents Face $200K Court Fees, Bankruptcy, After Failing to Sue Ammo Dealers
2015-08-01 2:17
The 2012 Colorado Theater Shooting still doesn’t add up… Media character and ‘Shooter’ James Holmes in court in 2012-2013. In 2014, Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, the mother and stepfather of Aurora Theater Shooting victim Jessica Redfield Ghawi, tried to sue the ammo companies they believe supplied shooter James Holmes with his ammunition, body armor and other items. They bleived that the online retailer BulkAmmo.com had sold Holmes ...
FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force Investigating Confederate Flags at MLK's Ebenezer Baptist Church
2015-08-01 2:21
According to the Atlanta Police Department, two White men left four small Confederate Battle Flags outside MLK’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta … and get this, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force is on the scene investigating the incident. Atlanta police Chief George Turner said his agency was working with federal authorities and they have not determined what charges might be ...
Democratic National Committee Chair Wasserman Schultz Can’t Explain Difference Between Democrat Party and Socialism
2015-08-01 2:08
Things got very awkward today when Chris Matthews asked DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz what the difference was between the modern Democratic Party and Socialism. We haven’t seen that dazed look since Rachel Dolezal was busted as a fraud. Wasserman Schultz was speechless. Completely stumped. Couldn’t answer. Then changed the subject. Because we all know there is no difference between today’s Democrat Party and the radical ...
Catching on slow: Yet Another Study Show Cellphone Radiation Cause Cancer
2015-08-01 1:44
The scientists were right — your cell phone can give you cancer. There have long been whispers of a cancer connection from your cell — and a new study backs up the claims. "These data are a clear sign of the real risks this kind of radiation poses for human health," study author Igor Yakymenko said. Yakymenko’s meta-study — basically a study of ...
Trump Goes #Cuckservative on Immigration
2015-08-01 1:28
For weeks, the media have trumpeted the supposed death of the Trump campaign. First, they claimed, Trump’s campaign imploded on launch thanks to his comments about illegal immigration. Then they claimed that Trump was finished because of his slap at Senator’s (R-AZ) war service. But neither of those comments alienated Trump’s base – he’s maintained his seven point lead over ...
More News »