Court Rules Against Patents on Breast Cancer Genes
A New York District Court judge ruled yesterday that patents on the human BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which are associated with breast and ovarian cancer, are invalid because the patents were "directed to a law of nature and were therefore improperly granted." The ruling (see PDF) did not consider claims that the patents are unconstitutional.
Myriad Genetics and the University of Utah Research Foundation currently hold patents on the BRCA1 and BRCA 2 genes and have exclusive rights to perform diagnostic testing on the genes. The patents allow Myriad to restrict outside research on the genes and monopolize predictive cancer tests, for which the company charges $3000, that check for mutations in an individual's genes.
Judge Robert Sweet ruled that "the isolation of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 DNA, while requiring technical skill and considerable labor, was simply the application of techniques well-known to those skilled in the art...The identification of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene sequences is unquestionably a valuable scientific achievement for which Myriad deserves recognition, but that is not the same as concluding that it is something for which they are entitled to a patent."
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Public Patent Foundation originally filed the lawsuit last year on the grounds that genes cannot be patented because they are "products of nature" and that the patents violate the First Amendment by restricting research. Plaintiffs included individual women, women's health groups, and science associations and professionals. Arguments in the case were heard in February.
ACLU staff attorney Chris Hansen said in a press release that the "ruling is a victory for the free flow of ideas in scientific research. The human genome, like the structure of blood, air, or water, was discovered, not created. There is an endless amount of information on genes that begs for further discovery, and gene patents put up unacceptable barriers to the free exchange of ideas."
The current lawsuit is the first to challenge gene patents as a civil rights violation and its outcome could have a far-reaching impact in genetic research as 20 percent of all human genes are currently patented; including those associated with Alzheimer's disease, muscular dystrophy, and asthma. Law professor Kenneth Chahine, who filed an amicus brief in support of Myriad�s case, told the New York Times, "If a decision like this were upheld, it would have a pretty significant impact on the future of medicine...The industry is going to have to get more creative about how to retain exclusivity and attract capital in the face of potentially weaker patent protection."
According to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, women with BRCA1 or BRCA2 are 3 to 7 times more likely to develop breast or ovarian cancer than other women.
Media Resources: ACLU Press Release 3/29/10; New York Times 3/30/10; Feminist Daily Newswire 2/2/10; National Cancer Institute; US District Court Ruling 3/29/10
8/31/2015 Chicago Activists Continue Hunger Strike to Save Predominately Black Public High School - Chicago residents have entered the second week of their hunger strike protesting the closure of Dyett High School, in the predominately African-American Bronzeville neighborhood located on the South Side of Chicago.
Parents and community members are calling on the Chicago Board of Education to keep Dyett - the only open-enrollment, neighborhood school in its area - open and accept a community plan to revitalize the school with a focus on science and green technology. . . .
8/28/2015 Alaska Court Protects Abortion Access for Low-Income Women - The Alaska Superior Court struck down a state law yesterday that would have severely limited abortion access for low-income women in Alaska.
The state's Superior Court also struck down a Department of Health and Social Services regulation that placed narrow specifications on Medicaid coverage for abortions, requiring that Medicaid-funded abortions be determined by a physician to be "medically necessary." Last year, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Planned Parenthood sued on behalf of the Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, claiming that the narrow definition of "medically necessary" arbitrarily established conditions designed to restrict the ability of low-income women to access abortion services.
The law was temporarily blocked last July by an Alaskan state court judge.
Superior Court Judge John Suddock ordered yesterday that the state be blocked from implementing this regulation, ruling that it placed an undue burden on low-income women seeking abortion services in Alaska.
"By providing health care to all poor Alaskans except women who need abortions, the challenged regulation violates the state constitutional guarantee of 'equal rights, opportunities, and protection under the law'," the ruling read.
"We applaud the superior court for striing down these cruel restrictions on women's health and rights that violate the Alaska Constitution," said Chris Charbonneau, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands. . . .