6 November 2014Americas

Children’s hospital seeks landmark ruling on gene patents

A Canadian children’s hospital has launched a lawsuit focusing on whether genes should be patentable; the first of its kind in the country.

The lawsuit, initiated by the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), will question five patents related to testing for heart disorder Long QT syndrome and will claim they should not have been issued.

The five patents targeted are held by the University of Utah Research Foundation, Genzyme Genetics and Yale University.

Long QT syndrome is a heart rhythm disorder that can cause fast, chaotic heartbeats and trigger fainting spells, seizures or sudden death.

Doctors can diagnose Long QT syndrome with a blood test and electrocardiogram. If treated, patients can live a healthy life.

Currently, rights to the test are exclusively controlled by the three US organisations.

CHEO said it was set to become one of Ontario’s testing centres for the syndrome but that it had received a cease-and-desist order from the patent holders.

The hospital said that if patients are tested for Long QT syndrome, their lab samples are sent to the US for analysis. CHEO claimed this takes more time and that the cost is double what it would be in Canada.

In a statement, CHEO said its physicians and scientists believe that the patenting of human DNA “interferes with their ability” to provide high-quality care and make full use of genomic technologies.

The lawsuit was filed at the Federal Court of Canada on Monday (November 3), the hospital said.

“CHEO is far more comfortable delivering on patient care in the exam or operating room than in the court room, but this question is too important to be left unchallenged,” said Gail Graham, CHEO’s chief of genetics.

“Genetics is poised to make major advances that will allow us to more rapidly provide life-saving diagnoses and treatments; continued patenting of DNA will stop us from fully realising that potential.”

The University of Utah, Yale University and Genzyme Genetics did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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