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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Gene Patenting Profit Motive threatens human health ─ JHU Prof S.L. Salzberg

U.S. Supreme Court considers private enterprise’s patenting human genes
Minor edit, excerpt by Carolyn Bennett from Dr. Steven Salzberg's “Perils of Gene Patents”

ene patents are antithetical to scientific progress

“Even if gene patents continue to be legal, scientists should refuse to file them … : any scientist who files a gene patent is, perhaps unknowingly, participating in a process that violates the basic rules by which science operates. 
Bioinformaticist Steven Salzberg 

“In particular, scientists should disseminate their findings and encourage others to push their work further. This principle applies to all scientists, but particularly to those of us working in universities, nonprofits, and other academic settings.”

Selfish secrecy hostile to inquiry

“When scientists file for a patent (or allow their technology transfer office to file one for them), they are required to conceal their work, keeping the  ‘invention’ out of the hands of possible  competitors until the legal process ensures that the patent is protected. Although an invention can be published once the patent application is filed, patent lawyers prefer to keep inventions secret, whereas scientists should want to make their discoveries public. These two goals are in direct opposition: if the patent lawyers win, then science loses.

“Much of the scientific progress during the past two centuries has occurred because we share our scientific discoveries. The faster our work is disseminated, the more rapidly we move forward. The entire system of scientific journals was created to serve this purpose.

cience that remains secret cannot contribute to scientific progress and is for all intents worthless. A counterargument made by defenders of patents is that inventions do not need to remain secret once the legal application has been filed. This argument boils down to claiming that the delay is not long enough to matter, which prompts the question ‘what benefits does society gain from waiting, especially when the patent covers a human gene?’”

Obstructs requisite inquiry 

“Gene patents create another, larger problem: they discourage further work on those genes.

“By 2005, 4,382 human genes either had been patented or had related intellectual property claims files on them by more than 1,100 different claimants.

his presents a bewildering ‘patent thicket’ to any investigator wishing to pursue a new medical application of a gene. Working on a patented gene can involve endless hours talking with lawyers, negotiating licenses, and paying for those licenses. No scientist wants to spend time on such extraneous activities; and, when given a choice, most will simply avoid patented genes entirely, preferring instead to work on other genes.

“These lost opportunities cannot be measured because we can never know how many investigators chose not to work on a patented gene.”

Threatens Health

“…Patenting genes undermines the scientific process — so much so that one has to wonder why any scientist would do it. The answer is simple: the profit motive.

Patent holders hope to enrich themselves, especially if their patented gene is essential to the diagnosis or treatment of a widespread human disease.

Thus, the more vital a gene is to human health, the greater the selfish motivation to file a patent.

And yet the same crucial genes are the ones that should demand the greatest attention from the research community.

“Patenting human genes therefore constitutes an indirect threat to human health. Unfortunately, some scientists have put their short-term interest in profit ahead of their larger goals.”

Sources and notes

“The Perils of Gene Patents” (S.L. Salzberg), http://genomics.jhu.edu/papers/Perils-of-gene-patents-reprint-CPT2012.pdf, Nature publishing group commentaries

S. L. (Steven L.) Salzberg

Bioinformaticist Steven Salzberg is a member of the Institute of Genetic Medicine, with faculty posts in the Departments of Medicine and Biostatistics at Johns Hopkins University. He has been Professor of Medicine, Biostatistics, and Computer Science. At the University of Maryland College Park, he was Director Horvitz Professor Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Department of Computer Science

Interviewed by Melissa Hendricks, http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/geneticmedicine/news/ScientistInterviews/steve_salzberg.html

“Novartis denied cancer drug patent in landmark Indian case ─ Supreme court ruling paves way for generic companies to make cheap copies of Glivec in the developing world (Sarah Boseley, health editor), The Guardian, Monday 1 April 2013 09.10 EDT. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/apr/01/novartis-denied-cancer-drug-patent-india

“U.S. supreme court to decide if companies can patent human genes ─ Utah biotech firm to argue its patents on breast and ovarian cancer genes are necessary to fund further research” (Karen McVeigh in New York), guardian.co.uk, Thursday 11 April 2013 13.07 EDT, http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2013/apr/11/supreme-court-gene-patents-cancer

“U.S. justices wary of wide human gene patent ruling ─ (Reuters) - U.S. Supreme Court justices on Monday signaled reluctance to issue too broad a ruling about patents on human genes, and some indicated they might seek a compromise distinguishing between types of genetic material. The biotechnology industry has warned that an expansive ruling against Myriad Genetics Inc could threaten billions of dollars of investment (By Lawrence Hurley), WASHINGTON | Mon Apr 15, 2013 8:50pm BST, http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/04/15/us-usa-court-dna-idUKBRE93D08Q20130415?feedType=RSS&feedName=healthNews

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