BRCA - Statement of Support: Council for Responsible Genetics

Document Date: May 12, 2009

Founded in 1983, the Council for Responsible Genetics represents the public interest, fosters public debate, and distributes accurate information about the social, ethical and environmental implications of genetic technologies. CRG also publishes a magazine, GeneWatch, the only publication of its kind in the nation.

The Council for Responsible Genetics applauds the efforts of the ACLU and the Public Patent Foundation in challenging the patenting of human genes in general and the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes in particular.

The patent, a tool originally created to insure that inventors could share in the financial returns and benefits deriving from the use of their inventions, has become the primary mechanism through which the private sector has advanced its claims to ownership over genes, proteins and entire organisms. No individual, institution or corporation should be able to hold patents or claim ownership rights over genes or gene sequences, whether naturally occurring or modified.

The conversion of genes and gene sequences into corporate property through patent monopolies is counter to the interests of the peoples of this country and of the world. This is particularly so because enormous amounts of public funds have been invested in the genetic research that underlies many of these patents. The Human Genome Project alone cost U.S. taxpayers over 3 billion dollars. The public’s investment in new technologies is betrayed when public interests are circumvented for private gain by these types of patents.

Finally, the patenting of genes and gene sequences poses a significant threat to human health and the innovation necessary to address that threat. In both the U.S. and developing nations overall, breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women. Over 200,000 Americans are diagnosed each year with breast or ovarian cancer. Rather than accelerate research and treatment, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene patents restrict access and subsequently create barriers to the development of the vital medical and scientific information needed to advance our collective fight against a clear public health threat.

The U.S. Constitution states that patents are intended to “promote the progress of science.” The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s decision to allow the patenting of human genes represents a major failure and misuse of power, and runs counter to the American tradition. The Council for Responsible Genetics stands with the ACLU in urging its reversal.

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