06 April 2011

How Gene Patents Cause Suffering

Here's a textbook case of how gene patents not only do *not* promote innovation, as is so frequently claimed, but slow it down - and will probably cause millions to suffer as a result.

An AIA lawsuit filed in February 2010 against the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine — a source of laboratory mice funded by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) — now threatens hundreds of government-sponsored Alzheimer's researchers with litigation.

But wait, what patent might that be?

The suit concerns an AIA patent on a human DNA sequence used in mouse models of Alzheimer's disease. The sequence encodes the 'Swedish mutation' (discovered in a Swedish family), which causes early-onset Alzheimer's. Michael Mullan, a biomedical researcher who is now head of the Roskamp Institute in Sarasota, Florida, patented the sequence in 1995, then sold it to the AIA.

So this concerns a *human* DNA sequence, found in a Swedish family. That is, it is something natural, that was discovered, not invented in any sense. And yet a patent was granted on this non-invention, and this ill-considered move is now casting a chill over an entire field of research that could potentially alleviate the suffering of millions.

Now, tell me again how gene patents promote innovation and progress...?

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Anonymous said...

Or, how about instead I just say you're politically correct, superficial and minimally informed.

Anonymous said...

Your comment is neither superficial nor minimally informed, as "anonymous" proposed. If you read my article in Nature Reviews Genetics from 2005, "Decoding the Research Exemption," you will see why the academic defense (which AIA indirectly supports) is meaningless, in the legal sense, and in any case these gene patents are indeed a product of nature and should not have been patented. Canada does not allow patents on transgenic mice, for just this reason: it slows academic as well as industrial research. People will die as a result of this foolish policy, as research lags.

Glyn Moody said...

Thanks for that.