Cancer Council Australia

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Why genes shouldn't be patentable

August 2009

Cancer Council Australia appeared at the Senate inquiry hearings into gene patents on 5 Aug 2009.

The crucial issue of gene patenting needs to be addressed in order to ensure equitable health systems for future generations, and research knowledge banks that will facilitate cures and treatments for cancer.

Genes are natural occurrences in the body that are easily discoverable and therefore do not meet the legal definition of ‘inventions’ to make them patentable.

The current patent system facilitates monopolies by gene-owning companies, which drives up testing costs dramatically for patients, and can reduce access to tests. Gene patents also prevent the wider scientific community from sharing important medical knowledge and making use of genetic information to develop new diagnostic tests and new treatments for diseases. 

As we sit on the cusp of a huge surge in the use of genes in diagnostics, treatments and cures for major illnesses, it is clear that the patent law system has not evolved adequately to handle sophisticated substances such as human genes and needs to be overhauled to exclude genes.

If we allow patenting of genes, we’re basically allowing patenting of ourselves. The patent system should be about protecting true inventions, such as medicines developed from genetic data, but not the data itself.
Australia should set a global precedent and put public interest at the forefront of genetic science by invalidating the patenting of genes.


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