IPRIA+CITE Public Forum on Gene Patents

In April, 2009, IPRIA and CITE organized a panel debate and public discussion on “should genes be patented?”. Here is a summary of the event, including video podcasts. More details about the event are on the ipria website. If you have comments or thoughts to share about the discussion, please add them to the “comments” section at the end of the page.

NEW: Transcribed text for the event is now available: IPRIA+CITE Public Forum on Gene Patents-final.

The event began with a welcome address by Beth Webster, director of IPRIA.

Dr. Kwanghui Lim then presented an introduction (created with Dr. Chris Dent) on the current situation with regards to gene patenting and its pros and cons.

Then, each of the panelists made a brief presentation. First up was Dr. Gillian Mitchell, a leading oncologist in Australia and Head of Familial Cancer Centre, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Melbourne.

Next was Professor Gregory Mandel from Temple University, USA:

He was followed by Professor Dan Peled, an Economist from Haifa University, Israel.

Professor Dianne Nicol from the University of Tasmania provided a legal perspective:

An open discussion involving both the panel and members of the audience. The discussion was moderated Professor Joshua Gans, Professor of Information Economics at Melbourne Business School and Director of CITE. The first topic discussed was the effect of gene patenting on scientific research.

This was followed by a discussion on the tradeoffs and legality of gene patents, spearheaded by Luigi Palombi and Hazel Moir from the Australian National University who were in the audience:

The discussion then moved to possible solutions, triggered by another audience member, David Thorburn from the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and President of the Human Genetics Society of Australasia.

Finally, Joshua Gans wrapped up the event with a funny and insighful presentation.

We thank the panel speakers and several audience members for allowing us to include them in this video podcast, as well as for their contributions to the debate.

If you have thoughts or comments about the issue, feel free to post them in the “comments” section below. We do not moderate or censor any submissions, except for spam and those containing obscenities.

6 thoughts on “IPRIA+CITE Public Forum on Gene Patents”

  1. Two things from the issues discussed at the seminar on Friday.
    1) Gillian Mitchell alluded to the cost-saving potential of using genetic markers to predict and, by implication, prevent colon cancer. I’d like to see the modelling for that example. As we sat there that morning, how many colo-rectal surgeons were toiling away at several hundred dollars per hour, and how would they react to use of a test that deprived them of income? Maybe all of them would be happy about it, but, surely, it’s pretty easy to calculate the transfer of $$$ from the surgery sector to the public health budget?
    2) Conflict-of-interest questions arise whenever oncologists open their mouths, especially when they take on the “gatekeeper” role. It’s a pity that public discourse hardly ever calls for declarations of financial connections to Pharma. The current case against Merck’s Vioxx will keep reminding the public about the medicos who dine off Pharma. In the interests of vulnerable people who finish up paying out for expensive chemotherapy before they die, it would be better to bring on the discussion about management of conflicts.
    (There is an article in The Age April 28th by Garry Jennings about relationships between basic research and Pharma.)

  2. A few other thoughts came to me after the session:
    1. the statement by the CSIRO IP officer that their gene patents were only granted when a probable use could be described – to me it is irrelevant whether a commercial use can be described or not if it is first agreed that patents cannot be granted on human beings and their material, ie that the genetic material is part of the make up of a human being and we reject the sophistic argument that DNA is no longer protected from being the focus of a patent once it is extracted from tissue and amplified for the purpose of analysis so that it is now a “chemical”
    2. the comment that concern about gene patents is overstated as it only affects a finite number of genes anyway and that the “genie is out of the bottle” as far as gene patents are concerned – so we should just stick with the status quo. If we agree with this comment and not exclude DNA from being the focus of a patent, then we will have the same problem but worse in the future once more RNA codes are uncovered and the associated protein structures are elucidated. As these last two structures have much more potential as drug targets and so will be of interest to commercial enterprises, this will become very problematic as there are millions of possible RNA codes/proteins to be discovered.

    I will have to try and find some way of expressing comment 2 in particular to the Senate Enquiry as I would hate them to focus solely on the consequences of genetic testing alone. I think the wider consequences of patents on other biological molecules is potentially much more problematic.

    Kind regards


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