Monday, May 18, 2009

ACLU Challenges Patents on Human Genes

BRCA1Image via Wikipedia
Got this one in my email today ... and I have to agree with their stance:

There is something fundamentally wrong with companies being able to own the rights to pieces of the human genome. Yet more than 20% of the human genetic code has been patented.

Last Tuesday, the ACLU and the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) filed a groundbreaking lawsuit charging that patents on two human genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2) associated with breast and ovarian cancer are unconstitutional and invalid. These two genes, the patents on which are controlled by Myriad Genetics, a private biotechnology company based in Utah, are responsible for most cases of hereditary breast and ovarian cancers.

For the past 20 years, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has been issuing patents on human genes -- the segments of DNA that we all have in our cells -- giving private corporations, individuals, and universities the exclusive rights to those genetic sequences, their usage, and their chemical composition. There is something fundamentally wrong with companies being able to own the rights to pieces of the human genome.

This raises serious civil liberties concerns because the government is essentially giving patent holders a monopoly over these genes and all the information contained within them. Patent holders have the right to prevent anyone else from testing, studying, or even looking at the genes. The ACLU believes this is a gross violation of First Amendment rights: individuals’ rights to know about their own genetic makeup, doctors’ rights to provide their patients with crucial medical information, and scientists’ rights to study the human genome and develop new treatments and genetic tests.

As a result of the U.S. Patent Office granting patents on the BRCA genes to Myriad Genetics, Myriad's lab is the only place in the country where diagnostic testing can be performed. And, because only Myriad can test for the BRCA gene mutations, others are prevented from testing these genes or developing alternative tests.

Myriad's monopoly on the BRCA genes also makes it impossible for women to access other tests or get a second opinion about their results and allows Myriad to charge a high rate for their tests -- over $3,000, which is too expensive for many women to afford."

Patents are meant to protect inventions, not things that exist in nature like genes in the human body," said Chris Hansen, a staff attorney with the ACLU. "Genes isolated from the human body are no more patentable than gold extracted from a mountain."

>>Learn more about the case and the plaintiffs.

>>Watch the video and learn why it is important that we stop the government from allowing companies like Myriad to own our genes.

>>Take Action: Sign a message of support.

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