EPO upholds limited patent on BRCA2 gene

Following the decision of the European Patent Office (EPO) to uphold the slimmed-down version of the University of Utah Research Foundation's European patent on the BRCA2 breast cancer gene, Professor Gert Matthijs, from the Department of Human Genetics, Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, and chair of the ESHG Patenting and Licensing Committee, said:

"The patent owners have been able to rescue a small bit of their original patent on BRCA2 testing by putting Ashkenazi women into their claim. This apparently renders the test for the 6974delT mutation, which happens to be frequent in the Ashkenazi population, inventive, novel and industrially applicable. We understand that the EPO had to decide about this case within the constraints of the patent law, and could thus only take the above criteria into account. Nevertheless, we still believe that there is something fundamentally wrong if one ethnic group can be singled out by patenting. Women coming to be tested for breast cancer will have to be asked whether they are Ashkenazi Jewish or not. If they are, the healthcare providers will only be able to offer the test if they paid for a licence or they will have to send the women's samples abroad. Women who are not Ashkenazi-Jewish or who just don't know that they have Ashkenazi-Jewish ancestors will be entitled to a test which is free. This is the first time that this kind of situation has arisen in genetic testing, and we find it very worrying."


Contact: Mary Rice
European Society of Human Genetics

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