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PBS Newshour gives a balanced report on the gene patenting debate

Excerpt from transcript of April 2, 2010 PBS Newshour:

A major goal of modern health science has been to identify the links between our genes and disease, to assess risk, and to find treatments and cures. Over the last two decades, university researchers and a multibillion dollar biotech industry have expanded the study of the human genome and developed a working blueprint of human DNA that includes hereditary information stored on 23 pairs of chromosomes wrapped as double-helixes.

Companies have also filed patents on particular genes and the research connected with them. Roughly 40,000 patents are now held on about 20 percent of all human genes. Among those are patents owned by Myriad Genetics, a company based in Salt Lake City, for genes known as BRCA1 and BRCA2, the genes whose mutations have been linked to hereditary breast and ovarian cancers.

Myriad sells a test costing more than $3,000 that helps assess a woman’s risk for cancer. But a group of individuals and organizations challenged those patents in a lawsuit, arguing that, under the law, a so-called product of nature cannot be patented.

This week, a federal judge agreed with the plaintiffs in a ruling that could have a broad impact on future genetic research.

Here to discuss the case are Daniel Ravicher, executive director of the Public Patent Foundation at the Benjamin Cardozo School of law. The foundation was one of the plaintiffs in the case against Myriad Genetics. And Ken Chahine, a patent attorney and visiting professor of law at the University of Utah. He’s a former CEO of a biotech company, and filed an amicus brief on behalf of Myriad. . . .

Click the black bar with red text below to play the video or read the rest of the transcript.

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