Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Four things you should know about gene patents

By Rodney Scott

The Federal Court’s decision that gene patenting is permitted in Australia will have ramifications for all gene patents, even though the case involved only one gene associated with breast cancer.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

A gene patent means only the patent-holder has the right to undertake research and development involving that gene. These patents generally last for 20 years.

The full bench of the Federal Court heard the appeal against a ruling that private companies could patent genes in August 2013, after a Federal Court justice dismissed a challenge to the patent for a breast cancer gene, BRCA1, in February.

A landmark ruling by the US Supreme Court in June 2012 declared that naturally occurring DNA sequences were ineligible for patents in a case that involved the same breast cancer gene, and the same patent holder.

The BRCA1 and BRCA2 controversy

It’s about 20 years since Myriad Genetics patented two genes associated with a significantly increased risk of developing breast cancer. Known as BRCA1 and BRCA2, the genes are also associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

When functional, BRCA1 and BRCA2 produce tumour suppressor proteins that help repair damaged DNA. But when they are altered, the protein is either not made or doesn’t function correctly, leaving DNA damage unrepaired. The cells may then develop additional genetic alterations that can...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.