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Charity to make breast cancer (BRCA2) gene freely available across Europe

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by Cancer Research UK | News

11 February 2004

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Cancer Research UK today secured a Europe-wide patent on the hereditary breast cancer gene BRCA2, in a move that will be welcomed by scientists across the continent.

The patent is based on pioneering work undertaken by Professor Mike Stratton’s team at The Institute of Cancer Research and funded by Cancer Research UK.

The charity will allow public laboratories throughout Europe to use the patent for free, mirroring its actions in the UK, where it already holds a BRCA2 patent.

News of the award comes in the European Bulletin, following a successful application to the European Patent Office.

The award will be a significant boost to cancer research throughout the continent, including Britain, where many scientists routinely collaborate with their European colleagues.

Professor Mike Stratton, who is funded by Cancer Research UK and works at The Institute of Cancer Research, discovered the BRCA2 gene back in 1995.

Inheriting a damaged version of the gene gives women a high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer, and men of developing prostate cancer. As well as being the focus of a wide variety of research projects, testing for variants of BRCA2 is important when providing genetic counselling and advising on preventative treatment for people with a strong family history of cancer.

Cancer Research Technology Limited (CRT), the commercial subsidiary of Cancer Research UK, filed the application and is the legal holder of the patent. The patent covers all attempts to sequence the gene or to test for damaged and inactive variants. Usually, any laboratory wanting to investigate the BRCA2 gene would have to pay a license fee to the patent holder, but CRT has agreed in principle to waive the fees for all public labs that apply to it.

Professor Peter Rigby, Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, says: “We’re extremely proud as this patent means that the discovery of the BRCA2 gene, which was made here at The Institute, will be freely available for our colleagues throughout Europe to research. We look forward to working with them to further our understanding of how this gene works, and to develop new treatments that will prevent the destructive effect it can have on generations of families.”

Professor Alex Markham, Cancer Research UK’s Chief Executive, says: “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.

“If the BRCA patents had been owned entirely by private companies, it would have made research into the inheritance of cancer far more expensive and made it costly for doctors to provide genetic services for those with a strong family history.”