Are Gene Patents A Hindrance To Innovation?


Gene patenting has always been a controversial matter and due to the recent revelation of Angelina Jolie'spreventive double mastectomy, the matter is again in limelight. Much of the ink has been spilt on Gene patenting ever since the issue of patenting of genetically modified organism arose in Diamond v. Chakrabarty, 447 U.S. 303 (1980).

Myriad genetics, a Utah based private biotechnology company, has a monopoly on two genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2. Mutations in these genes can radically raise a woman's chance of developing breast or ovarian cancer. Since Myriad owns the patent rights on these two genes, it is the exclusive provider of the tests related to these genes in United States, thus blocking other diagnostic centres from offering tests based on these genes. Granting monopoly on a DNA sequence through gene patenting has direct impact on various other areas of worldwide medical research such as, drug designing, etc.

The genomics revolution brought about by the genome sequencing and mapping, cloning, selective expression, regulation and silencing of genes, prediction of the three-dimensional structures of a protein etc, has contributed a lot to the rapid development of health care & life sciences. These technologies along with genetic testing to predict a person's predisposition to genetic disorders, have tremendously improved the health care services. Patenting a gene sequence might impede the advancement of genetic testing which helps in detecting the risk of disease before the actual expressing of it. Gene patenting has, therefore, genuinely raised concerns pertaining to the scenario of the genetics research and its possible benefits to health sector.

The Controversy

Patent is granted to an inventor for a limited period of time to encourage him and to have exclusive control over the innovation. While a patent is in force no one is allowed to use it without a license. The major issue in granting patent over a gene sequence is that the sequence normally becomes the property of the company which hinders any further research by another company. Further, from the point of view of a new researcher the increase in the number of gene patents can lead to negotiation of multiple licenses for the advancement of genomic research. Owing to the multiple licenses and royalty payments the cost of research and development is automatically increased. The burden of this increased cost is finally borne by the public.

Another issue which arises in...

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