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Hearing Held in Breast Cancer Gene Patent Lawsuit

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) argued today in federal court that human gene patents are unconstitutional and therefore invalid. This is the first hearing for the BRCA1and BRCA2 human genes patent lawsuit, genes associated with breast and ovarian cancer. The ACLU and PUBPAT initially filed the lawsuit last year on the grounds that genes cannot be patented because they are “products of nature” and that the patents violate the First Amendment by restricting research. Plaintiffs in the case include individual women, women’s health groups, and science associations and professionals. Daniel Ravicher, Executive Director of PUBPAT and co-counsel in the suit, said in a press release“The patent system was designed to reward and encourage human ingenuity. But genes are naturally-occurring parts of our bodies, not inventions…Patents on human genes should never have been granted in the first place. Genes are identified, not invented.” Myriad Genetics and the University of Utah Research Foundation currently hold patents on the BRCA1 and BRCA 2 genes and have exclusive rights to perform diagnostic testing on the genes. The patents allow Myriad to restrict outside research on the genes and monopolize predictive cancer tests, for which the company charges $3000, that check for mutations in an individual’s genes. The current lawsuit is the first to challenge gene patents as a civil rights violation and its outcome could have a far-reaching impact in genetic research as 20 percent of all human genes are currently patented; including those associated with Alzheimer’s disease, muscular dystrophy, and asthma. According to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, women with BRCA1 or BRCA2 are 3 to 7 times more likely to develop breast or ovarian cancer than other women.

Sources:

National Cancer Institute; Feminist Daily Newswire 5/14/09, 11/3/09; ACLU Press Release 2/2/10

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