Introduction to Biology- SCI115
Dr. Thaddeus Reamer
February 10, 2012
Gene patenting is big business. If you own a gene patent, you can charge whatever you wish for it. Gene patenting can hinder medical testing, keep critical information from you and your doctor, impede research, and halt medical advances in malicious diseases. In other words, gene patenting is a dangerous practice that may cause countless people to die. There are however, advocates for gene patenting that claim that gene patents are a necessary evil. They feel that gene patenting creates full disclosure of inventions so that others can learn about the invention, try to design around the patent, and make and use it after the patent has expired. (Park, 2002) I will explore the pros and cons of gene patenting in this paper. Gene patents are patents on specific sequences of genes. A patent is a grant issued that gives the applicant the right to exclude anyone from making, using, or selling the product for twenty years from the application filing date. (Lewis, 2007) The concept of genetic patenting is that if someone patents a precise sequence of genes for research, no one else can use it unless they pay a royalty fee. Consequently, only the patent holder can have power over what happens in that particular field of research. What happens when those patents halt research? When SARS was spreading across the globe, medical researchers hesitated to study it — because of patent concerns. (Crichton, 2007) The owner of the genome for Hepatitis C is paid millions by researchers to study this disease. Needless to say, many other researchers choose to study something less expensive. US district court judge Robert Sweet declared the patents on breast cancer genes BRCAI and BRCA2 to be invalid on March 29, 2010. The ACLU called the ruling a victory for the free flow of ideas in scientific research. The courts saw that patenting human genes is legally indefensible and ethically wrong because it restricts access to data and stops the sharing of basic scientific information. An expert on gene patenting from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina had this to say:
It could undercut certain gene patents that seek to claim DNA sequences themselves as an invention rather than as part of a process. He adds, however, that "it will take a while to figure out what it means." He notes that the judge's decision directly attacks part of the subtle legal reasoning behind such patents—the notion that intellectual property attaches only to "isolated" DNA sequence, which is a human invention, and not to the DNA in genes that's considered a product of nature. (Marshall, 2010)
Gene patenting can hinder medical testing. Case in point, Canavan disease is an inherited disorder that affects children starting at 3 months; they cannot crawl or walk, they suffer seizures and eventually become paralyzed and die by adolescence. In the past there was no test to tell parents if they were at risk. Families experiencing the heartbreak of caring for these children engaged a researcher to identify the gene and produce a test. Canavan families around the world donated tissue and money to help this cause.
When the gene was identified in 1993, the families got the commitment of a New York hospital to offer a free test to anyone who wanted it. But the researcher’s employer, Miami Children’s Hospital Research Institute, patented the gene and refused to allow any health care provider to offer the test without paying a royalty. The parents did not believe genes should be patented and so did not put their names on the patent. Consequently, they had no control over the outcome. (Crichton, 2007)
Patents on genes can keep vital information from you and your doctor. For example, an asthma medication only works in certain patients. Yet its manufacturer has suppressed efforts by others to develop genetic tests that would establish