Letter: Gene research needs patents

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One patient group may be against the European measures to harmonise the patentability of gene sequences but many more want the provisions in the directive introduced as soon as possible ("Women's anger over cancer gene patients", 29 June).

Research into the genetic basis of disease provides hope of significant medical breakthroughs, especially for diseases such as cystic fibrosis or muscular dystrophy for which there is currently no cure, and, increasingly for common diseases like cancer and heart disease as well.

It takes ten years and pounds 300m to develop a new medicine. No company will make investments of this magnitude if they can see their ideas copied by others unwilling to take the risk, so if we want to see research translated into treatment there must be proper protection. Patenting is the mechanism that has evolved over hundreds of years to provide this.

Of course abuse must be prevented. This is why patient support groups have been lobbying the European Parliament to amend the original draft of the directive, and MEPs are to be congratulated for ensuring that the version that will be voted on next month provides an ethical framework for encouraging research and development in genetic medicine.

Alastair Kent

Genetic Interest Group,

London EC1