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Patents and Diagnostics

Intellectual property claims may hinder using genomic tools for the betterment of public health, particularly for combating non-communicable diseases like type 2 diabetes, writes Anna George, an adjunct professor at Murdoch University in Australia and a Chatham House associate fellow, at the Guardian Professional. She estimates that about 20 percent of the human genome "is subject to patents that can impose complex legal and cost constraints on medicines and diagnostics."

Current — though not universal — practices allow the patenting of unmodified, though isolated, bits of genomic DNA, George says, noting that there are legal challenges, especially focused on Myriad Genetics' BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene patents, underway in the US and Australia. Two reports, one from the US National Academy of Sciences and the other from the Department of Health and Human Services, indicate that patent restrictions could hinder the development of diagnostics, George adds.

"Ensuring open access to such basic scientific genomic data is a necessary step to enable the scientific collaboration and inventive solutions to evolve," she says. "The so-called 'genome divide' is not just between developed and developing countries but also between closed and open access to these unique produces of nature that no one invented."