Lawsuit Against Patent of Breast Cancer Genes Proceeds

A federal district judge ruled yesterday that a lawsuit challenging patents on genes related to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer can move forward in court. The lawsuit, filed in May by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) at the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law, is the first to challenge gene patents as a civil rights violation, reports Wired Magazine.

The defendants in the suit are the US Patent and Trademark Office and Myriad Genetics of Salt Lake City, which holds patents for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, where mutations causing breast and ovarian cancer can occur. 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, according to Wired. Yesterday’s ruling denied the defendants’ request for dismissal of the suit.

The ACLU and PUBPAT filed the lawsuit 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, according to an ACLU press release. ACLU staff attorney Sandra Park stated, “The patents on BRCA1 and BRCA2 restrict women’s access to genetic testing and interfere with their medical care. We hope that at the conclusion of this lawsuit, the court declares the patents unconstitutional and invalid.”

The outcome of the lawsuit could have a far-reaching impact in genetic research because about 20 percent of all human genes are currently patented; including those associated with Alzheimer’s disease, muscular dystrophy, and asthma, reports the ACLU.


Wired Magazine 11/2/09; ACLU 11/2/09; Feminist Daily Newswire 5/14/09

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