Two advocacy groups joined with cancer patients and doctors yesterday to launch a sweeping attack on human gene patents. They filed a lawsuit arguing that those for breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, controlled by the diagnostic company Myriad Genetics in Salt Lake City, Utah, are illegal. Among other things, the plaintiffs claim that these patents violate the right to free speech because they prevent patients who take Myriad's test from getting a second opinion.
If successful—and it is a long shot—the case could undercut many gene patents.
This challenge arose from complaints made initially by breast cancer patients who objected to Myriad’s monopoly control over the testing and interpretation of risks associated with these cancer genes. The litigation is being carried forward by the Public Patent Foundation, headed by Daniel Ravicher, a patent attorney at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City, and the American Civil Liberties Union. They filed their complaint yesterday in federal court in New York against the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and others. One of many researchers lending support to the cause is genome scientist and Nobelist John Sulston of the University of Manchester, U.K., who warns that “gene patents can have a chilling impact on research, obstruct the development of new genetic tests, and interfere with medical care.”