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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Genes should be used for progress, not profit

By By Brandon Beifuss

In 2005, the academic journal Science reported that “nearly 20 percent of human genes are explicitly claimed as United States Intellectual Property.” The commercialization of the human code has come into contest in a case where the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office along with the U Research Foundation and Myriad Genetics over the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene patents.

According to the National Cancer Institute’s website, a subset of the Department of Health and Human Services, “A woman’s risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer is greatly increased if she inherits a deleterious BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation.” The NCI says both men and women are at risk from the mutations of BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, which makes this a universal dilemma.

The U Research Foundation owns the patents for the BRCA genes, but U spokeswoman Coralie Alder said, “In the early 1990s, the Foundation licensed all of its rights in those patents to Myriad Genetics. Under the terms of the licenses, Myriad controls the prosecution, commercialization and defense of these patents.” This does not absolve the U of responsibility in this case, however, as it is still the patent owner.

BRCA1 and BRCA2 stand for breast cancer susceptibility gene 1 and breast cancer susceptibility gene 2. The commercialization of America has gone far enough to patent the identification of your body, even at the U. The BRCA genes occur in humans, not just lab samples, even though that is where they were discovered.

These genes existed prior to Myriad Genetics using its patented BRACAnalysis and continued to exist after Myriad was licensed to them, but still the BRCA genes are patented.

Myriad Genetics is a profit-based organization with a spin-off pharmaceutical company. Their primary emphasis is for the profit they will gain. It should come as no surprise then that the cost of what Myriad has termed the “Be Ready Against Cancer Analysis” is more than $3,000. Myriad’s molecular diagnostic revenue increased 22 percent from last year, according to a Myriad quarterly press release. Myriad is in the business of human genetics, and business is good. It is profiting off the discovery of a link between a certain genetic mutation and an increased rate of cancer. This should raise alarm bells of ethics and, in a fringe manner, of monopolistic power. Myriad is the only company that can test your blood for the BRCA mutations. It has the patent power to issue cease-and-desist letters to those who attempt to offer BRCA tests or tests along their patented strain of the human genome.

The idea that Myriad is merely covering its cost is refuted by its continued existence and growth. Myriad is not a pure scientific establishment, but one founded on the gluttony of money, like other Research Park companies derived from the U.

ACLU is rightly attempting to remove the patents from the U, and by extension, from Myriad for perpetuating the business of human genes. One of the stances ACLU is taking is that it is unaffordable. For this, they tell the story of Lisbeth Ceriani, who was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a double mastectomy. Her doctor recommended that she have the BRCA genetic tests to determine whether she was at high risk for ovarian cancer. She cannot afford the test, however, and has become a plaintiff in the case.

The business of patenting and reselling information about one’s own genes needs to stop here at the U. The U receives public money, and this practice is devoid of a lowest common denominator greater public interest, but instead plays into the specific interest of the shareholders of Myriad Genetics. The pure pursuit of science does not require a marketable product, but merely the accruement of knowledge.

The U does a great deal of research with the capacity to privatize the information, but the human genome is one area that should be left in the unpatented realm of public knowledge.

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