Patenting genes

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.329.7479.1358 (Published 09 December 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:1358
  1. Gert Matthijs (gert.matthijs@uz.kuleuven.ac.be), head, Laboratory for Molecular Diagnosis
  1. Center for Human Genetics, University of Leuven, Herestraat 49, Gasthuisberg, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium

May slow down innovation, and delay availability of cheaper genetic tests

Patents on genes have been granted for many years. Until January 2001, when the first patent for the first breast cancer gene (BRCA1) was granted by the European Patent Office to Myriad Genetics, a US company, most geneticists in Europe had never worried that genes and genetic tests could become exclusive property of a laboratory or a company. A patent allows a company to develop commercial laboratory testing services based on the gene sequences and charge other laboratories wanting to run genetic tests. Myriad Genetics holds several patents on the breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 and offers a specific test called BRACAnalysis to detect abnormalities in these genes. The company opted to exert its monopoly right strictly on the genes, by requesting that all diagnostic testing be done at its laboratory in the United States. The Belgian, Dutch, French, and other European genetic centres and cancer institutes have filed oppositions against these patents.1 Recently, the European Patent Office has revoked the first BRCA1 patent granted to Myriad Genetics.2

Patenting the familial breast cancer genes

The familial breast cancer genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, have been located on chromosome 17 and 13 respectively as a result of a large, international collaborative effort in the early nineties. The BRCA1 gene was eventually cloned by Myriad Genetics in 1994. The BRCA2 gene was sequenced in 1995, first at the Sanger Institute, and almost at …

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