Sometimes when you make a map, you find something unexpected (subscription required):
U.S. Patents Claim Almost 20% Of Human Genes, Study Finds
By SYLVIA PAGAN WESTPHAL
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
October 14, 2005
Close to 20% of human genes are claimed by U.S. patents, say researchers who have produced the first comprehensive map of the patent landscape for the genome.
The work will pave the way for a more informed debate over the consequences of patenting genetic sequences, experts say. The topic of gene ownership has been controversial: Proponents argue that gene patenting promotes development of drugs and diagnostic tests because companies have an incentive to carry the costs, but critics contend the practice stifles innovation at the basic research level.
But until now, despite avid discussion and several high-profile legal fights over the ownership of genes, nobody really knew how many genes were claimed in patents or how widespread the practice was. “The real novelty of the work is that it’s a whole-genome approach,” said Kyle Jensen, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate student and co-author of the study.
In the report, to be published in Friday’s issue of the journal Science, Mr. Jensen and MIT’s Sloan School of Management Professor Fiona Murray compared all of the gene sequences claimed in U.S. patents from 1990 until today with the sequences stored in the government’s public database of human genes.
The team found that of the 23,688 genes in the U.S. government’s public database, 4,382 were claimed as intellectual property. This is likely an underestimate because the analysis didn’t look at patents for protein sequences, said Ms. Murray. “It could be up to double that,” she said.
The more than 4,200 patents were owned by 1,156 institutions or inventors. About 63% were assigned to private companies, with Incyte Pharmaceuticals, a unit of Delaware’s Incyte Corp., having the highest number of patents assigned, covering more than 2,000 human genes.
The researchers also found that heavily patented genes tended to be those with high relevance to human health and disease. Gene patenting has been the subject of legal battles in Europe, where countries have challenged Utah-based Myriad Genetics Inc.’s patent claims on breast-cancer gene BRCA1. Myriad has developed a diagnostic test that uses the gene, and the countries have resisted its use in Europe because of the patent issue. BRCA1 is one of the most-often-patented genes, with 14 patents issuing claims to it, according to the MIT study.
Scott Stern, a professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in Illinois who studies how scientific ideas get to the marketplace, said the MIT work “illustrates in a very dramatic fashion the degree to which intellectual-property rights over the human genome are inextricably linked with those areas of high medical and scientific interest.”
Mr. Stern, who has worked with Ms. Murray in the past but wasn’t involved in her current research, said that the debate over the patenting of human genes “is going to be with us for a long time” and that the MIT work lays the groundwork needed to make informed policy decisions. The National Academy of Sciences, which advises the U.S. government on science issues, is looking at the issue of gene ownership and its effects on research.
Write to Sylvia Pagán Westphal at email@example.com
I will have at least a fleeting familiarity with every large geographic region to show up in the news this year. This resolution is motivated by my inability to even vaguely imagine where in Russia to find Kabardino-Balkaria.
Militants have staged mass raids on government and police buildings in a provincial capital in Russia, leaving dozens dead and many more injured.
Authorities say that 61 rebels have been killed, but 12 police and 12 civilians also died in the assault on Nalchik in Kabardino-Balkaria province.
Then again life would be easier if I just read the American press, so I didn’t have to hear about these things. So much easier.
The Discovery Institute (peddlers of Intelligent Design theory) has just filed an amicus curiae for the evolution trial going on in the 3rd Circuit court in Pennsylvania. Therein they include 85 amici, all acredited scientists, who either support intelligent design theory or feel that “protecting the freedom to pursue scientific evidence for intelligent design stimulates the advance of scientific knowledge.”
This is really annoying, because it’s a lot harder to make ad hominem attacks against people with PhDs, since they can respond with their own logical fallacy, appeal to authority. Meanwhile, while we’re having pissing contests, some guys over at Shovel Bums ran a Four-Day petition which generated 7,732 signatures from scientists stating that intelligent design is not science and shouldn’t be taught in schools.
It’s fun crawling through the short list of twenty-four selected “amici” that the DI decided to highlight. Some of them are well-known, like Jonathan Wells, William Dembski and Dean Kenyon. Others are people who famously stuck their foots in their mouths or up their asses (maybe simultaneously), like Russell Carlson, who testified in front of the Kansas Board of Education and admitted that he didn’t believe in the descent of man. This is simply not a scientifically defensible position, and people who make claims like that (and then admit they have no reasonable alternative hypothesis, or at least not one they’re willing to mouth) can’t be called respectable scientists in this context.
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