The UK government is finalising a deal that will allow NHS doctors to carry out tests on two patented genes involved in breast cancer, without paying royalty fees to British licence-holders Rosgen. Although the details of the deal have yet to be agreed, Rosgens say that in the interim, NHS labs can continue to carry out the genetic tests without fear of being sued for patent infringement.
Alterations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are associated with rare, inherited forms of breast and ovarian cancer. Patents on both sequences were controversially granted to US firm Myriad Genetics, who then licensed the resulting genetic tests to Rosgen last February. Professor John Burn, a medical geneticist who took part in the government negotiations, had feared that the patents would prevent UK clinical genetics labs from offering patients the tests. 'This is exactly the type of situation which will arise if genetic information continues to be patented' he said.
But Rosgen insist it was never their intention - or that of Myriad's - to stifle the test's use by invoking patent rights. 'Rosgen's aim is to introduce a commercial service that complements the service provided by the NHS' a spokesman said. According to the Independent newspaper, Rosgen plans to charge from £450 to £2,500 for private tests, which will range from identifying a single alteration to sequencing the entire gene.
Meanwhile, research carried out by Gene Watch UK for the Guardian newspaper reveals that patents on over 500,000 whole or partial gene sequences from living organisms are pending, or have already been granted. The list includes patents filed on 161,195 human gene sequences.