The firms putting a copyright on cancer

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gene_cancer_sanThe following article is from The UK Telegraph and is an analysis of the pros and cons of gene patenting as a way of encouraging innovation in medicine.

First, the shares shot up to $36. Then they dropped to $32. The fluctuating stock price of Myriad Genetics, the American company whose monopoly on genetic testing for breast cancer was partly dismantled by the US Supreme Court last month, illustrates the confusion that has greeted the legal ruling. It has been simultaneously applauded as “a victory for common sense” and condemned as “insane”. At the time of writing, the share price was hovering around $26.

It isn’t the share price that matters so much as the ruling itself – that naturally occurring genes can’t be patented but that modified genes can – and the symbolism behind it. Myriad Genetics has, for decades, been seen as the symbol of genomic greed. Ever since the Utah company patented the two major breast cancer genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, in the Nineties, and a diagnostic test for them, it has defended those patents aggressively in a string of legal showdowns that have scared off companies trying to develop cheaper tests. When the actress Angelina Jolie revealed her double mastectomy, she flagged up the cost of genetic testing – around $3,500 – as a serious public health issue.

But the company also casts a long, potentially litigious shadow closer to home: it holds European patents on breast-cancer testing that cover the UK, and which are enforceable under British law. However, Myriad’s patents didn’t stop the NHS developing its own simpler genetic tests, using publicly available genetic data. And while the chances of Myriad bringing its lawyers down on the NHS look slim, they can never be dismissed. A 2011 report by the now defunct Human Genetics Commission claimed that the NHS and the Department of Health were ignorant of patent issues, were probably guilty of multiple infringements, and may soon face lawsuits and the prospect of paying backdated royalties….READ FULL ARTICLE


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The ONA Editor curates oncology news, views and reviews from Australia and around the world for our readers. In aggregated content, original sources will be acknowledged in the article footer.

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