Innovation Asset Blog

Research highlights new ethical dilemmas for gene patents

Life science research has advanced to such a state that biological patents can now cover the sequencing, chemical composition and process of manipulating human genes. However, the rapid growth of genetic patent portfolios among for-profit biomedical organizations could pose a considerable threat to an individual's "genomic liberty" in certain scenarios.

In a new study commissioned by Cornell University researchers, it was discovered that more than 40 percent of the human genome is now covered by long-sequence patents that relate to the entire gene. What's more, the aggregation of short-sequence patents that cover patterns often repeated in a person's genetic structure could lead to a circumstance by which 100 percent of their genome is effectively owned by commercial entities.

"I am extremely pro-patent, but I simply believe that people should not be able to patent a product of nature," Dr. Mason explained. "Moreover, I believe that individuals have an innate right to their own genome, or to allow their doctors to look at that genome, just like the lungs or kidneys."

This research comes just a few weeks ahead of crucial U.S. Supreme Court proceedings, according to The Financial Times. Justices will soon hear the next round of challenges to Myriad Genetics' patents, which cover two key gene mutations that may offer compelling insights into the epidemiology of breast cancer. As the cost of DNA reading decreases and clinical treatments come into more direct alignment with specific genetic factors, patent thickets could inhibit the delivery of fast, effective patient care.

Peter Ackerman

Peter Ackerman

Founder & CEO, Innovation Asset Group, Inc.