Protecting Personal Data

Patenting technology and research is common practice in most science fields, but what happens when biotechnology companies start patenting products of nature? Dan Munro addresses the upcoming Supreme Court hearing in his article “Data War Reaches Supreme Court” for Forbes. Human genes are becoming subject to patents at an increasing rate, restricting the research done to cure diseases and develop personal health technologies.

When a company owns patents on certain human genes, any other research group wanting to use that gene in developing medical treatment technologies must pay royalties in order to gain access to it. This is creating a bias in the research findings, preventing certain types of research from taking place and mostly to protect profits. “Last year the drugs worth about $35 billion in annual sales lost their patent status. 2015 looks to be similar for drugs totaling about $33 billion in annual sales,” reported Munro.

The article identifies four ways this debate over data ownership relates to the wider scope of healthcare reform:

1) Healthcare costs (where the U.S. easily surpasses all other industrialized countries –   by a wide margin)

2)   Trust and Patient Engagement (how to get patients more engaged with their health)

3)   Quantified Self (tracking all of our data – in order to manage our health more effectively)

4)   Personalized Medicine (therapies customized to our individual genetic composition)

When we think about data uses, we often think about statistics. The idea that a company could patent and restrict access to information about our bodies and data produced by our bodies is a frightening concept. The decision to who has the rights to our genetic material and personal data is being considered in Association for Molecular Pathology, et al. v. Myriad Genetics, et al.