Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Greenwood in USA Today: Gene Patents Promote Innovation

BIO CEO Jim Greenwood provides the "opposing view" editorial in today's USA Today.

Opposing view: Patents promote innovation

Jun 16, 2009 USA TODAY
By Jim Greenwood

Can a gene be patented? The easy answer is this: Genes as they exist in nature cannot be patented. No one can patent a naturally occurring gene or protein as it exists in the body.

Here's where it becomes more complicated: Researchers can isolate a protein or DNA sequence that can help treat or potentially cure a disease, like cancer or heart disease, and they can patent this discovery. Many, if not most, human diseases have their roots in our genes. More than 4,000 diseases are suspected to stem from mutated genes inherited from one or both of our parents.

Armed with this knowledge, scientists have developed more than 200 innovative new therapies and vaccines that have helped extend and improve the quality of life for hundreds of millions of patients. Researchers, for example, located the gene responsible for cystic fibrosis, then used that knowledge to create therapies that have extended the average lifespan of a person who has CF from 12 years to more than 40.

Like all other patents, gene-based patents protect the intellectual property of a scientist, researcher or biotech company, spurring investment in research and development. The Patent and Trademark Office has strict guidelines on patents, including the patenting of DNA molecules or genetic material.

Two recent studies, from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a Department of Health and Human Services advisory committee, both confirm what a prior National Academy of Sciences report concluded: Patents do not hinder biomedical innovation. The HHS panel's study also found that patents are not the cause of access-related issues regarding genetic diagnostic tests, in particular.

Public debate over access to, and use of, genetic technology is a good thing. It requires the consideration of many factors, including coverage and cost, concerns over genetic discrimination and myriad regulatory issues.

Even so, banning patents on gene-related breakthroughs would slow biomedical innovation to a halt — taking away the hope biotechnology offers to patients suffering from debilitating diseases such as cancer, Parkinson's and HIV/AIDS — while doing nothing to address what is really a much more complicated set of issues.

Former representative Jim Greenwood, R-Pa., is president and CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

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