Tuesday, April 16, 2013

are genes a "product of nature"?



BusinessInsider | The US Supreme Court heard the most high-profile genetics case in history on Monday, as justices considered whether private firms should be allowed to patent human genes linked to breast cancer.

The court's decision could have broad implications for research, patient health and the pharmaceutical industry, with nearly 20 percent of the approximately 24,000 human genes currently under patent, some linked to cancer and Alzheimer's disease.

At issue are the actions of Myriad Genetics, a Utah-based company which holds patents on genes known as BRCA1 and BRCA2, both associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

The firm says patents for the two genes, awarded in 1998, have helped it raise the money "necessary to decode the genes, design and deliver the tests, interpret the results, and help patients," to the benefit of a million people.

Critics accuse Myriad of barring research by other institutions on the BRCA genes and making the test too expensive for many patients, with a cost of $3,000 to $4,000.

"Competition is what leads to innovation and improvement," said Harry Ostrer, a medical geneticist and a plaintiff in the case.

"We don't want to tie up the uses of our genes," he told reporters, adding that if Myriad did not own the patents, "I would start offering testing to my poor patients in the Bronx."

Dozens of breast cancer survivors and women's health advocates assembled on the Supreme Court steps as the arguments were heard inside. Some hoisted signs, including one that read: "Corporate Greed is Killing My Friends."