Federal judge allows challenge to human gene patent

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] on Monday denied [opinion, PDF] a motion to dismiss a lawsuit challenging patents on human genes, allowing the case to proceed. The suit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) [advocacy websites] on behalf of patients and scientists challenging patents held by Myriad Genetics [corporate website] on the BRCA genes [NCI backgrounder], which are associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. Plaintiffs allege that the patents are illegal under patent law and unconstitutional under the First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, and Article I of the Constitution [text]. The plaintiffs also claim that the patents are essentially a monopoly that restricts scientific research and patient care. In allowing the case to move forward, Judge Robert Sweet noted that the case has implications for the broader issues of patenting human genes:


The challenges to the patents-in-suit raise questions of difficult legal dimensions concerning constitutional protections over the information that serves as our genetic identities and the need to adopt policies that promote scientific innovation in biomedical research. The widespread use of gene sequence information as the foundation for biomedical research means that resolution of these issues will have far-reaching implications, not only for gene-based health care and the health of millions of women facing the specter of breast cancer, but also for the future course of biomedical research.

ACLU staff attorney Chris Hansen said, "[w]e hope this challenge is the beginning of the end to patents on genes, which limit scientific research, learning and the free flow of information."

Genetic research companies currently hold patents to approximately 20 percent of all human genes. Many of the patented genes are associated with diseases such as Alzheimer's and cancer. The holder of a gene patent can prevent others from studying the gene.


 

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