Direct-to-consumer genetic testing company 23andMe announced earlier this week that it has received its first patent. As our sister publication BioArray News reports, the patent, US Patent No. 8,187,811, covers a method for determining an individual's susceptibility to Parkinson's disease. On 23andMe's Spittoon blog, company co-founder Anne Wojcicki says 23andMe and its partners are moving their Parkinson's research closer to drug development and "the patent will be important for a biotech or pharmaceutical company to pursue drug development" though she does not specify how. Wojcicki acknowledges that gene patents are controversial, and adds that "we believe patents should not be used to obstruct research or prevent individuals from knowing what's in their genome."
Many commenters on the blog post aren't convinced, however. Commenter Dave Mackey writes that he isn't concerned with 23andMe receiving a patent, but with how the company may use it. "I understand that under the current system patenting makes sense … but will these patents be used offensively or defensively? Will the prices of treatment increase b/c a single pharmaceutical company is eventually granted rights to create treatments based on this discovery? If so — then I'm not a fan."
Others ask about how clear 23andMe was with research participants on whether findings would be patented. Also in the comments, Holly Dunsworth asks whether the terms of service and consent forms contain language regarding gene patenting. "I'm asking because I had assumed that 23andMe was against patenting genes and felt in total cahoots all along with you guys," she adds. "If I'd known you might go that route with my data, I'm not sure I would have answered any surveys."
Also in the comments, 23andMe notes that many of the concerns are regarding the company's future actions and it reiterates the company's commitment to access to genomic data and being as open as possible. Additionally, the company says intellectual property rights are discussed in both its terms of service and consent forms.