Friday, May 15, 2009

Medical Monopoly

Cancer treatment costs a lot of money. But it costs even more when
private companies hold the monopoly over potentially life-altering knowledge and technology.

For example, Myriad Genetics owns the patent on the two genes that are associated with increased breast/ovarian cancer risk, as well as a test that can determine if a patient is at an increased risk for these cancers. So if you want to check your risk factor, you have to go through them. And it'll cost you.

Now one of those at-risk patients, Genae Girard, is fighting Myriad.

"On Tuesday, Ms. Girard, 39, who lives in the Austin, Tex., area, filed a lawsuit against Myriad and the Patent Office, challenging the decision to grant a patent on a gene to Myriad and companies like it. She was joined by four other cancer patients, by professional organizations of pathologists with more than 100,000 members and by several individual pathologists and genetic researchers.

The lawsuit, believed to be the first of its kind, was organized by the American Civil Liberties Union and filed in federal court in New York. It blends patent law, medical science, breast cancer activism and an unusual civil liberties argument in ways that could make it a landmark case."

It's a tough issue. Certainly, those who develop medical breakthroughs should be rewarded, but not at the expense of people who are dying. It should be an interesting case to follow.