Why Does the US Grant Patents For Human Genes?
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the not-for-profit Public Patent Foundation have filed a lawsuit on behalf of over 150,000 geneticists, women’s rights groups, breast cancer organizations, pathologists and others against the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the biopharmaceutical company Myriad Genetics and the University of Utah Research Foundation. The ACLU and others are charging that it is unconstitutional for drug companies to have patents for human genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer.
Approximately 20 percent of human genes are patented, according to the ACLU. This means that only the company with the patent may study or develop tests for genes. The company can charge outrageous prices for genetic tests; Myriad Genetics currently charges over $3000 for women to test whether their genes are more susceptible to breast or ovarian cancer. In addition, women do not have the option of obtaining a second opinion, which is particularly important when tests come back as inconclusive.
Although the focus of this case is on the genes associated with breast and ovarian cancer, patents exist for genes linked to Alzheimer’s disease, muscular dystrophy, colon cancer, asthma, among others.
Executive Director of the ACLU Anthony D. Romero contends, “Knowledge about our own bodies and the ability to make decisions about our health care are some of our most personal and fundamental rights…Moreover, granting patents that limit scientific research, learning and the free flow of information violates the First Amendment.”
Get full details of the case, including exactly who is joining the fight at the ACLU’s website.