April 20, 2010
Gene Patents Slow Progress

Gene patents do more to slow progress - especially in this emerging era of full genome sequencing.

DURHAM, N.C. –Exclusive licenses to gene patents, most of which are held by academic institutions and based on taxpayer-funded research, do more to block competition in the gene testing market than to spur the development of new technologies for gauging disease risk, say researchers at the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy (IGSP).

As single-gene tests give way to multi-gene or even whole-genome scans, exclusive patent rights could slow promising new technologies and business models for genetic testing even further, the Duke researchers say.

The findings emerge from a series of case studies that examined genetic risk testing for 10 clinical conditions, including breast and colon cancer, cystic fibrosis, and hearing loss. The studies appear April 14 in a special issue of Genetics in Medicine.

In seven of the conditions, exclusive licenses have been a source of controversy. But in no case was the holder of exclusive patent rights the first to market with a test.

DNA sequencing costs are getting so cheap that the rate of discovery of meaning for genetic differences is going up by orders of magnitude. The DNA data has become an enormous flood. A single study can find many genetic variants associated with a disease or metabolic difference.

Patents on genes have never made sense to me because they amount to discovering what already is happening. This isn't development of a new technique. There's no novelty of thought.

When full genome sequencing becomes cheap are genome sequencing services going to be required to hold back information about select sections of DNA that have patents on them? Will we have to pay extra to learn our full sequences? If so, that would be an outrage.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 April 20 07:26 PM  Policy Science

Lyle said at April 20, 2010 11:59 PM:

"Patents on genes associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer are invalid, ruled a New York federal court today. The precedent-setting ruling marks the first time a court has found patents on genes unlawful and calls into question the validity of patents now held on approximately 2,000 human genes."


LarryD said at April 21, 2010 1:12 PM:

Like you, Randall, I've never seen gene patents from sequencing as passing the novelty test. No one has yet invented a gene, only identified them. And the patents from sequencing work haven't even identified their function, let alone how they work.

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