Constitutionality of Patenting Gene Sequencing Reaches Supreme Court

Its decision could affect whether private companies can charge inflated prices for tests such as the BRCA gene for breast cancer

OPINION -- February 2, 2012 -- The Supreme Court is going to rule on the case of whether it is constitutional for biotech companies to be able to patent gene sequences. This will be a landmark patent case, since currently about 20 percent of the human genome is patented for various diseases. 

If the lower court is overturned, it means that a lot of companies that have spent a lot of money making sure they have exclusive rights to commercialization of treatments and testing for specific disease genes, could stand to lose big.

For example, the test for the BRCA gene for breast cancer costs about $3,300, when it should cost about $300. The extra is all paid for royalties to Myriad Corp. that owns the rights to the BRCA gene sequence. The gene field in medicine is expanding rapidly, and is dependent on controlling these gene sequences for proprietary use.

In 1980 the Supreme Court ruled that anything made by man, could be patented. The question here is whether gene sequences should be patentable, because they are derived by man, even though they are naturally occurring. Patents are not allowed for anything created by nature.

As you know, I question the value of most new medical technologies. They are the primary driver of healthcare cost inflation.

It would also be interesting if an insurance company was allowed to offer a policy that covered only "Generic Treatments.” No name brand drugs or implants. No surgical robots, etc. I think it could be quite adequate and affordable.

Dr. Nick Benton is an ENT, head and neck surgeon whose been practicing full time in Corvallis, Oregon for the past 18 years. He also holds two U.S. patents. For his previous articles at The Lund Report click here.

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