OTTAWA, November 3, 2014 – The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) launched a legal challenge today against the U.S. patent holders of genes related to a rare heart disorder. The legal action, a first in Canada, focuses on whether genes should be patented.
CHEO is a nationally-recognized leader in genetic care and research. The hospital’s physicians and scientists say that the patenting of human DNA interferes with their ability to continually provide the highest-quality care and making full use of genomic technologies as the era of personalized medicine arrives in Canada.
“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 Dr. 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 realizing that potential.”
The specific test in question is for Long QT syndrome – a heart rhythm disorder that can cause fast, chaotic heartbeats that trigger sudden fainting spells, seizures or sudden death. Doctors can diagnose Long QT with a blood test and ECG and, if treated, patients can live a healthy life. Currently, rights to this test are exclusively controlled in the United States.
“As a research hospital, we recognize that patents are an important part of the innovation process,” said Alex Munter, CHEO’s Chief Executive Officer. “No one should have a monopoly on something that occurs naturally. Patenting a gene is like patenting the water we drink and the air we breathe.”
CHEO is being represented in Federal Court by Gilbert’s LLP - a Canadian law firm devoted to breaking legal barriers that restrict access to innovative health technologies. Nathaniel Lipkus and Sana Halwani, as well as other lawyers from Gilbert’s are providing their services pro bono as are several leading experts, including Professor Richard Gold of McGill University’s Faculty of Law. Gold and his team are funded through PACEOMICS, a project supported by Genome Canada, Genome Alberta, Genome Quebec and the Canadian Institutes for Health Research.
“Genetics is the future of medicine and we need clarity on this issue so everyone involved—patients, researchers, health care providers and companies – can benefit,” concluded Munter. “We hope to obtain guidance from Canada’s Federal Court that will allow all provinces to approve genetic tests conducted by Canadian healthcare providers. Our patients deserve nothing less.”
CHEO, the pediatric hospital in Canada’s capital region, helps over 500,000 kids each year in Ontario, Quebec and Nunavut. It is affiliated with the University of Ottawa and is home to globally-recognized clinicians and researchers tackling cancer with viruses, mental illness, gene discovery, obesity and much more.
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