Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A Myriad of Genetic Fascism

We've talked about the potential evils of biotech patents on the Bayblab in the past, but I must confess I've been ignorant about just how far companies will go in their attempts to abuse the patent system. Based on genetic research it conducted on genetically isolated Mormon families in Utah, Myriad Genetics obtained patents for genetic testing of breast cancer susceptibility genes in 2000-2001. The Cancer Cancer Society describes how Myriad is attempting to abuse its patent rights:

"In July 2001 Myriad issued a cease and desist notice in Canada instructing provincial governments to stop using any test other than BRCAnalysis to detect genetic abnormalities on the BRCA1 and 2 genes. Myriad’s patents give the company the exclusive right to perform diagnostic testing for BRCA 1 and 2 abnormalities. The patents have enabled Myriad to demand that all patient samples be sent to the company’s headquarters in Utah for analysis, which increases the cost associated with the test tremendously. The response of provinces to Myriad’s order has varied. The provinces that continue using tests other than BRCAnalysis risk facing legal action by Myriad."

Excuse me? A patent gives you the right to bar others from extracting revenues using the technology or method in question (ie a genetic test). It is obviously not a title deed granting the holder ownership of a piece of every human being's genome in every country where the patent is held. I think it's pretty obvious that individuals should have the right to use any means they choose to learn about their own genome.

Hopefully Canadian governments will follow through with the Canadian Cancer Society's demands and limit this ridiculous attempt by Myriad to commandeer the Canadian Patent System and plunder Canadian genomes. Maybe we also need to add explicit protection of personal genetic information to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.


Bayman said...

Promising signs the the Canadian government will get things right, from its very interesting biostrategy website:

Re property rights and the human body:
"In the U.S., patents are issued for protein co-ordinates, SNPs, such as the BRCA diagnostic sequence (for breast cancer), and ESTs. These patented biological materials may be more appropriately characterized as research tools. Protein co-ordinates may have little or no independent value and yet can be the subject of a patent. Their real economic value derives from a final product, e.g. a pharmaceutical that is developed with the aid of the research tool.

The expanding scope of patentability in the U.S. suggests a contradiction in the law. The law refuses to grant individuals property rights in their bodily materials and yet allows pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies intellectual property rights over these materials, despite the fact that some of the patented materials require very little in the way of inventivenss or differ very little from the naturally occurring material in the body. In the past, the granting of property rights in bodily materials could be explained by applying John Locke's theory of property. The inventor, using raw materials, such as human cells, applies his physical and mental labour to produce or create a product. The inventor, as a human being, has an inalienable right to self-ownership and it is this right combined with the inventor's physical and mental labour that gives him or her a right of property in the finished product. The theory is that the finished product is different from the raw materials, i.e., the excised human materials. The inventor has no property rights over the human materials in the donor's body. The state's grant of intellectual property rights, in the form of a patent, is only with respect to the finished product and not the bodily materials occurring in the human body."