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Impact of the Gene Patent Ruling on Genetic Research: Insights from Haig Kazazian


Dr. Haig Kazazian

On June 13, 2013, the Supreme Court handed down a ruling on the case, Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics.

The initial plaintiff in the case, Johns Hopkins geneticist Dr. Haig Kazazian shared his insights about the impact of the decision on genetic research in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session on June 21.

Dr. Kazazian answered a wide range of questions from an audience that included a self-identified microbiologist and two lawyers.

Below are a few highlights from the AMA; visit Reddit to view the entire conversation.

Could this ruling impact the number of treatments developed?

Q: If it were possible and common to patent genes, how would that affect the future of Medicine? Would it result in more treatments being created, with less competition to keep prices down?

A: I don't think it would change the number of treatments being created. Treatments depend upon finding a use for the gene sequence and uses are patentable. What the court ruled was that the natural gene in our bodies is not patentable until you find a use or a process.

What was it like receiving a cease and desist letter?

Q: Did you know anything about getting a cease and desist letter before it happened? What was your first thought about receiving the letter?

A: Yes, I had dinner with Mark Skolnick, the founder of Myriad, in New York in late 1998, and he told me after dinner that Myriad would be sending us the "stop" letter. At least, he paid for the dinner.

Did the story of Ms. Henrietta Lacks affect the ruling?

Q: Obviously Ms. Henrietta Lacks cells have played an unbelievable role in human health and the advancement of medicine. Did her situation effect the ruling, specifically because her history lies there at John Hopkins? How is her history at John Hopkins addressed/celebrated?

A: Thanks for asking about Henrietta Lacks. Indeed, we and other researchers all around the world still work with her cells (HeLa cells). I don't think her situation affected the ruling, but we do honor her now at Hopkins with an annual lecture and permanent display.

Why are genetically modified organisms (GMO) patent-eligible if genes are not?

Q: 1. Thank you. 2. I'm an attorney and cannot fathom the difference between this and the genetically modified seed case. To me, it's genetic material and I believe shouldn't be patentable. Do you have an opinion on that case?

A: For genetically modified plants, a gene is found that alters the makeup of a plant and the gene's function is discovered. This gene is then transferred into a new plant producing some desired feature. This is quite different because a use is found for that gene, whereas in the BRCA case it was merely the natural gene that had been patented without a specific use.

For more of the conversation, visit the Reddit AMA thread

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