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Canada fighting gene patents again

Ontario has decided to fight a genetic patent. Recently, the province began offering a genetic test for breast cancer that takes advantage of a known gene sequence. The problem is, the company that discovered that sequence — Utah-based Myriad Genetics — has a patent on that sequence in Canada. So Myriad is claiming it solely has the right to do the test — for $3,000, instead of the $1,000 the Ontario government says it can do it for.

The blood-screening process — known as DHPLC — is for those women with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer and who therefore might have a genetic mutation that raises their risk of getting the disease.

Mr. Clement, who called gene patenting “abhorrent,” said accepting Myriad’s claim would mean more costly tests.

“We do not accept their claim and we are disregarding that claim,” said Mr. Clement.

“This is a fight for access for women who might have a predisposition to breast or ovarian cancer.”

Now, keep in mind that this guy and his government are, by Canadian standards, supposed to be really right wing. I love how differently Canadians define “left” and “right”, in comparison to Americans; some of Canada’s conservative politicians hold positions pretty much to the left of Ralph Nader. In fact, it looks like genetic patents are going to have a rough ride in Canada. Last month, the Canadian Supreme Court slapped down Harvard University’s patent on its “oncomouse” (a research mouse genetically engineered to develop specific cancers). The court ruled that lifeforms couldn’t be patented unless the national Parliament debated the issue and decided to allow it, which it hasn’t.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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