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Ruling on gene patents highlights need to change law

A Federal Court ruling to uphold the validity of patents on cancer-causing gene mutations highlights the need to change the law to protect health consumers from commercial gene monopolies, Cancer Council Australia said today.

Cancer Council CEO, Professor Ian Olver, said the decision reflected a lack of progress in patent law, which was based on centuries-old principles but being applied to rapidly changing technology.

"Discovering and isolating genetic materials is not inventive, yet the current law gives licence to biotechnology companies to claim ownership of naturally occurring substances," Professor Olver said.

"Today's outcome shows that the law must be changed to protect the community from gene monopolies.

"The catalyst for this case was the attempt by Genetic Technologies in 2008 to monopolise tests for BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations, including demands that public hospitals cease providing the tests.

"Following community outrage, the company withdrew its demands. But there was – and still is – nothing in the law to prevent such a demand being made in the future.

"Genetic science will hold the key to major breakthroughs in cancer detection and treatment.

"If we don't change the law now to protect the community from gene monopolies, what almost occurred in 2008 could become commonplace – a handful of commercial interests owning the genetic materials essential to cancer detection and treatment."

Professor Olver thanked applicant and cancer consumer Yvonne Darcy, and her legal team from Maurice Blackburn, for taking on Genetic Technologies and its powerful American ally, Myriad, which owns the patents over BRCA1 and BRCA2.

"Until the law is changed, we are likely to see more of these challenges between cancer consumers and biotechnology companies." he said.

Media contact:

Hollie Jenkins
02 8063 4153 or
0400 762 010

This page was last updated on: Friday, February 15, 2013