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December 07, 2006


Well said Kevin -- I couldn't agree more. If you haven't already, I suggest sending this to the editors of Parade magazine and the article's author.

I'm glad you wrote this. We need people to continuously push back on those who distort the patent system and its impact on society.

There's certainly a danger in misguided attempts to vastly oversimplify complex issues for public consumption. Happens often in the occasional news article about things patent. A whole lot more people read Parade than this blog. Also, most people are unwilling or unable to spend a lot of time gathering information and thinking about it. By all means contact Parade - but if the eds publish your correction letter, make sure to keep it as simple as you can!

Genes are not inventions. A simple and formal argument.

bert: To me your argument is a bit too simple (or too formal?). What is your opinion about plant-based drugs that are useful for treating various medical conditions? They exist in a plant, so maybe one could gnaw on its bark or leaves and realize some beneficial results. But what about someone taking the time and effort to purify and isolate the active compound, characterize it structurally, characterize it mechanistically, and provide it to the public as a pure, more safe (thanks to the FDA), more effective, and more accessible drug formulation? Can't that be considered an invention? Doesn't the public derive some benefit from that work?

To me, that situation is clearly similar to the state of gene patents. Kevin took time and effort to lay out the argument in favor of gene patents, and to reply to his article with a conclusory statement does nothing to persuade people to your side of the issue.

No offense, but you haven't actually said why gene patents are good. You've said why they aren't as bad as these articles claim, and you've asserted that "my genes" aren't patented, but you've said nothing to support that assertion - to draw a clear distinction between what can be patented and what can't.

You've asserted that the ability to patent genes has provided incentives for developing better gene sequencing technology, which may well be true, but you haven't said why people were motivated to support development of these tools - only that they had a financial incentive.

"Why" is an interesting question. In order to engage in informed debate on this topic, it is necessary to consider both the pros and the cons. You seem to be saying there are no cons. Is that really what you think?


Well, I did support the statement that "your" genes aren't patented, when I said that a gene must be "isolated" or "isolated and purified." Your genes are where they have been since you were conceived, inside your cells in your body. My point was that many authors raise the red herring that somehow a patent holder would lay claim to "your" genes as a dishonest way to raise the emotional temperature of the debate. Nothing could be further from the truth.

As to whether gene patenting is a "good" thing, I wonder if you are old enough to remember when the US was depicted as an aging, rust-belt wreck that would soone be surpassed by those gleeming new post-WWII economies. Didn't happen, and one of the reaons (certainly not the only one) is that those countries were very slow in permitting biotechnology patents to be granted. (In fact, there is a University of Sussex report issued recently thar points out that both Europe and Japan still lag very far behind the US in gene patenting.)

In addition, if you look at any financial page regarding big pharma, where are they going for new drugs? Biotech companies, who in many instances have been able to protect their franchise and obtain the funding they needed to survive and continue their research.

Moreover, a great deal of "gene" patents come from the university, and universities have been able to obtain licensing fees (that they use for many other things, including new research) from commercial ventures. Prior to 1980, this work would have been expropriated free of charge by companies (foreign and domestic), to all our detriment.

And finally, companies like Amgen and Genentech have provided drugs that otherwise would have been unavailable (Epogen, TPA, human growth hormone, human insulin) if they had not been able to protect the genes that were the bases for producing these drugs.

Thanks for the opportunity to clarify.

People shoulnt be alowwed

People shoulnt be alowwed

hi i would like to know where do the good genes come from when they get rid of the bad one because they say they will replace it with a good oe but where does come from also can someone sell there good genes like if they had good eye sight can they sell that good gene if so then where thankyou.

Let's say pharmaceutical company A gets a patent on the genes for a form of cancer. what happens if pharmaceutical company B wants to research said cancer, taking a different approach to dealing with this cancer? Is B allowed to do their research unhindered, allowing them to come up with solutions that A never would have thought of (that they can then patent), for the betterment of mankind? or does A have a monopoly on this cancer now?

Dear Jack:

Good question. Here is the answer (with the understanding that we are dealing merely with a claim to an isolated gene).

Company B would need to identify a tumor or a tumor cell line that expressed the gene. This wouldn't require isolation of the gene, merely identifying the gene's expression. So far, so good. Then, for example, Company B can test compounds to find ones that cause the expression of the gene in the cells to decrease. Again, no need to isolate the gene to do that. Finally, Company B would do studies in animals (perhaps bearing human tumors) to see if treating the animals with the compound reduces tumor growth etc. Again, no need to isolate the gene. Conclusion: no inhibition on cancer research.

Now, there may be other claims that might be a problem, but that's where the debate goes off the tracks a little - this post was concerned with gene patent claims themselves, which have been important in developing biologic drugs, for example. There may be arguments for or against other types of claims, but the arguments raised against claims on isolated genes are, as I say in the post, simply wrong.

Thanks for the comment.

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