17 May 2005
The charity Cancer Research UK (CRUK) has been granted a European patent on the breast cancer gene BRCA2, discovered in 1995 by Professor Mike Stratton and his team during CRUK funded research at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London. The European patent is held by Cancer Research Technology Limited, the commercial subsidiary of Cancer Research UK, and covers all forms of sequencing of the gene or testing for damaged and inactive variants. In a move welcomed by researchers across Europe, the charity will in principle permit free use of the patent (by not imposing fees for licenses to use the gene) by European public laboratories, as in the UK where it already held the UK patent. Previously, although Cancer Research Technology held the UK patent for the BRCA2 gene, the US-based company Myriad Genetics (which owns US patents on both the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes) had been granted a European patent on BRCA2. Objections to this patent, applied for just a few hours in advance of the publication of the discovery of BRCA2 by the ICR in the journal Nature [Wooster R et al. (1995], have been fierce. The primary concern has been that Myriad, which has an effective monopoly over BRCA testing in the US, might exercise legal rights as patent holder to impede the use of better and cheaper testing by public laboratories in Europe.
In a press release Professor Alex Markham, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK, commented: "BRCA2 plays a central role in the inheritance of some important forms of cancer and we're delighted to have secured the patent for the gene in Europe