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Argument: Gene patents are essential to future of biotech industry

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Danny Rose. "Gene patents ban 'would hit biotech'." Sydney Morning Herald. November 5, 2009: "Changing Australian law to explicitly rule out patents being applied to human genes would drive research jobs and investment dollars offshore, an expert panel says.

The potential change, now under consideration by a Senate inquiry, also threatened to "bring the Australian biotech industry to its knees", says the Institute of Patent and Trademark Attorneys of Australia (IPTA), which staged the panel event on Thursday.

"It would seriously affect the biotechnology industry in that it would be difficult to attract investment in research that has commercial opportunities if it couldn't be protected," IPTA councillor Trevor Davies said while at the event in Sydney.

"(And) if biological materials couldn't be patented ... there is a likelihood that important advances in medicine would not actually be released in Australia because there wouldn't be patent protection."

Patent law was as critical to a successful biotech sector as mining leases were to the mining sector, said the panel, which included prominent patent lawyers, a biotech entrepreneur and academics.

They also said the typical cost of transforming a promising field of research into a market-ready medical product - like a life-saving genetic test - was about a billion dollars.

Pharmaceutical or biotech companies would not fund this work in Australia without sufficient patent protections in place, they said.

"If we ban the patenting of genes ... we will remove the incentive for people to invest," said panel member and University of Melbourne intellectual property professor Andrew Christie.

"I'm worried that we won't then have the genetic tests of the future, the genetic therapies that I want us to have."

Tim Dean. "Gene patents vital to biotech industry: IPTA." Life Scientist. May 11, 2009: "If the Federal Government places a ban on the patenting of genes or other biological materials it could result in the collapse of the Australian biotechnology industry, said a panel of experts gathered by the Institute of Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys of Australia (IPTA) in Sydney today.

According to the panel, a ban on gene patenting would bring to a halt a great deal of medical research and would result in a catastrophic withdrawal of investment by the corporate sector.

According to Dr Tania Obranovich, patent attorney and former research scientist, allowing genes to be the subject of patents will not stifle research or prevent beneficial therapies to reach the general public. Allowing biological materials to be protected under patent law will encourage private investment in bringing therapies to market, she said.

Products such as the cervical cancer vaccine, Gardasil, would never have been made available to the public were not its key components - including genes from the human papillomavirus - protected by patent law, said Obranovich.

Dr Trevor Davies, patent attorney and fellow at IPTA, said the submission made to the Senate Inquiry by the Cancer Council Australia that all biological materials should be exempt from patenting could prove devastating to the Australian biotechnology industry, forcing Australian researchers overseas to conduct - and protect - their research."

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