Patents threaten research

March 24, 1995

Medical research is being undermined by flaws in the patent laws which prevent scientists having access to the data they need, according to researchers from the Science Policy Research Unit at Sussex University. They say that more than 1,000 gene sequences have already been patented.

The researchers investigated which genes have been patented and on what grounds the patent was awarded. They found that there are now 17 genome-research companies worldwide, which are in a position to patent many of the 100,000 genes in our bodies.

The researchers' main criticism is that patents are often too broad. Although companies must demonstrate utility in order to receive a patent, they are being granted them for full DNA sequences and sometimes any possible mutations of that sequence that have not yet been discovered, but might lead to better products.

Julian Burke, reader in biochemistry at Sussex and a participant in the study, told a meeting held by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of national science week that claiming the rights to all variants on a gene sequence "inhibits anyone else who might have a good idea. It inhibits invention and production of improved products".

Medical research is also undermined because companies are withholding data about genes for which they do not yet have patents, he said. "There are commercial organisations that have an awful lot of gene sequence data and they are keeping it to themselves. This information would be incredibly useful worldwide for medical research."

Human Genome Sciences, a genome research company in the United States, has about 35,000 genes in its database and has filed for patents for 70 of them. It allows academic researchers to use a special type of DNA sequence to discover other new genes - but only if they cede all patent rights of any genes they discover to HGS and its partner, SmithKline Beecham.

Dr Burke said: "Our view is that genes definitely should be patented. In many instances a lot of work has gone into isolating these sequences. But we are alarmed at the way in which some genes have been patented."

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Assistant Professorship in Behavioural Science LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS & POLITICAL SCIENCE LSE
Foundation Partnerships Officer LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS & POLITICAL SCIENCE LSE

Most Commented

Social media icons

Gabriel Egan laments the narcissistic craving for others’ approval brought on, he says, by the use of social networking websites

James Fryer illustration (8 September 2016)

Some lecturers will rightly encourage forms of student interaction that are impossible for those covering their faces, Eric Heinze argues

University of Oxford students walking on campus

University of Oxford snatches top spot from Caltech in this year’s World University Rankings as Asia’s rise continues

Handwritten essay on table

Universities must pay more attention to the difficulties faced by students, says Daniel Dennehy

Theresa May entering 10 Downing Street, London

The prospect of new grammar schools on the horizon raises big questions for HE, writes Nick Hillman