Now It's Canada's Turn To Decide On The Patentability Of Genes

from the matter-of-life-and-death dept

It's taken a surprisingly long time for countries to settle the question of whether something as fundamental as genes can be patented or not. And opinions still differ: last year, the US Supreme Court ruled that naturally-occurring genes couldn't be patented, while more recently, Australia went the other way (although it's possible that ruling could be overturned by higher courts there). Now a test case has been filed this week to establish the situation in Canada, as the Toronto Star reports:

Monday's legal case, brought by the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), deals with five patents held in Canada by the University of Utah on genes and tests for an inherited cardiac condition called Long QT syndrome.
Interestingly, the case is not about genes that play a role in developing breast cancer, which were the focus of attention in both the US and Australian court decisions. However, as with breast cancer, the effects of allowing gene patents in this area is the same -- to drive up the cost of testing:
The two-tier test [for Long QT syndrome] currently costs approximately $4,500 (U.S.) per person, CHEO estimates, whereas researchers at the hospital believe they could administer the same process in-house for about half the cost.

"The collective impact (of this case) could easily be in the orders of millions of dollars for the healthcare system," said Gail Graham, a clinical geneticist at the hospital.
This isn't just about money: it's a matter of life and death. The more expensive a gene-based test, the less likely it will be used by hospitals, which are struggling to make their limited budgets stretch as far as possible. And that means that medical conditions will be missed, with serious, possibly fatal, consequences.

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Filed Under: canada, dna, genes, patents
Companies: cheo, children's hospital of eastern ontario, university of utah


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  1. identicon
    psiu, 7 Nov 2014 @ 1:32am

    Hits close to home

    This runs in my family. Just had to pay for testing this spring -- had a whee little cardiac scare and it seemed best to rule this out.

    But the genetic testing has moved past the "guinea pig" phase, so even with insurance, and even testing for only the 1 (of 5) markers it was still a few hundred out of pocket (note: I'm in the US).

    Long QT Syndrome sucks. Primary symptom is sudden unexplained death :P

    Can't believe a university would be trying to do that sort of thing.

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