A quarter of those polled had received letters from lawyers acting for biotechnology companies ordering them to stop a variety of clinical tests. Carried out by researchers in California and Pennsylvania, the survey showed that half of the laboratories questioned said they had stopped work because they knew a patent had been licensed or was pending.
The perceived threat in the medical and scientific community in the US is so great that a group of doctors and researchers have issued a statement declaring that, 'The use of patents or exorbitant licensing fees to prevent physicians and clinical laboratories from performing genetic tests limits access to medical care, jeopardises the quality of medical care, and unreasonably raises its cost.'
Mildred Cho, director of Stanford University's Center for Biomedical Ethics and one of the authors of the survey expressed her surprise at the hold the patent lawyers had on genetic testing. 'It will diminish access to testing,' she said. 'It will affect quality because the laboratories normally cross-check their samples for quality control. You can't do that if one laboratory is doing all the testing.'
Although the sharpest impact on research has been in the US, under World Trade Organization rules, many of the patents are applicable worldwide. This means that the progress of ground-breaking work in the UK and elsewhere could also be inhibited.