Back to the wonderful World of the free market now. In early 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union along with The Association for Molecular Pathology, American College of Medical Genetics, American Society for Clinical Pathology, and Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) filed a lawsuit against Myriad Genome, the Biotech company, because Myriad had gained a patent on BRCA1 and BRCA2 preventing any other company from researching using BRCA1 and BRCA2. What are BRCA1 and BRCA2? What wondrous invention had Myriad now gained exclusive rights to?………….. breast cancer genes. Myriad refused to licence it’s tests and it’s findings to any other company, and so if you want to be tested for BRCA1 and BRCA2, you have to go to Myriad, and pay upwards of $4000. You also cannot get a second opinion, because Myriad has monopolised the research on the two strains of genome.
In a landmark ruling, District Judge Robert Sweet put an end to Myriad’s patents, which in turn has hugely positive implications for future genome patent requirements and offers fantastic opportunities for further development in biomedical research. Myriad tried to claim it was okay to patent DNA sequence, if that DNA sequence had been “isolated“, because isolating the DNA is a technique rather than the DNA itself.
Judge Sweet said:
“Many, however, including scientists in the fields of molecular biology and genomics, have considered this practice a `lawyer’s trick’ that circumvents the prohibitions on the direct patenting of the DNA in our bodies but which, in practice, reaches the same result,”
Myriad quite obviously just wanted to make a lot of money, restricting access to key research. Genes that can help to prevent and cure disease and death should not be patentable. Before this ruling, Myriad had refused to licence the testing that they developed, which meant that if a patient feared they might be at risk of developing Ovarian cancer, only Myriad could examine the genes. Technically, if the woman in question was a top scientist and wished to examine her own genes, she would be breaking the law. Her genes, would in effect, belong to Myriad. The kit needed to test for BRCA-1, costs around $4,000, which means if you are one of the unlucky few who are uninsured in the USA, you can’t be tested. You can’t afford it. You could potentially die because you can’t afford to live.
BRCA-1 was discovered by University of Washington scientist Mary-Claire King. Commenting on the ruling, King said the court ruling was:
“very good news for women who are potential carriers”
The field hopefully will now be opened up, further testing across the World allowed, and lives saved. Patents on human genomes hold back important life saving research. Especially when Myriad is concerned. Myriad refuses to grant permission to it’s rivals to use it’s research and treatments. It is off the scale of immorality.
Celera Corporation’s website says it is committed to making sure they….
“can improve the length and quality of life, while reducing the cost of managing our health”.
Celera’s concern with human health is a little bit shallow. In 1999 Celera Group put patent orders in on 6,500 whole or partial human genes. If anyone wants to use those specific genes, they would have to pay Celera a fortune. They cannot experiment themselves. If I want to use the genes patented by Celera, I’d have to pay Celera, even though they’re my genes. Celera’s position, as well as Myriad’s position, is based on the idea of intellectual property rights. Celera said that it is the only way biomedical research companies would invest in important research, by ensuing they recoup their money by offering licences. Now, whilst the rules of Capitalism are dirty enough to render that absolutely true, it still does not take away the fact that it would be illegal for me to test my own genes for certain mutations, in the USA. Celera therefore is not concerned with health, it is concerned with profit.
Dr Craig Ventor of Celera started his work with the Human Genome Project, which published it’s findings free. Venter then left and set up Celera, and promised the US Congress that any discoveries by Venter would be freely available. He then tried to patent 6500 pieces of genetic information that Celera had mapped and refused to allow any other biotech company or university work on the mapped genes, without paying a fee to Celera. It amazes me that it has taken this long for a Judge to rule against such immoral practices.
CEO of Myriad, commenting on the ruling, said:
“while we are disappointed that Judge Sweet did not follow prior judicial precedent or Congress’s intent that the Patent Act be broadly construed and applied, we are very confident that the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit will reverse this decision and uphold the patent claims being challenged in this litigation……… How else am I going to be able to afford a new yacht?
Okay I might have added the last bit myself. But, I can probably guess it was what he was thinking. The idea that research will stop immediately, and we will be driven back into an age where leaches get used to suck the disease out of patients is simply employing scare tactics from a Capitalist class that also told us that if we punish the bankers for destroying our financial system, they’ll all “leave the country“. Or in 1997, when the bosses over at the CBI warned that if Britain introduced minimum wage, it would cause the biggest financial crises ever. Scare tactics designed to protect luxury at the expense of the health and wellbeing of the majority.
ACLU staff attorney Chris Hansen said, quite rightfully:
“The human genome, like the structure of blood, air or water, was discovered, not created. There is an endless amount of information on genes that begs for further discovery, and gene patents put up unacceptable barriers to the free exchange of ideas.”
I welcome this ruling and I hope when Myriad appeal, they got shot down again.