University of Cambridge > > Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science > The CCR5 gene patent: biomedicine, intellectual property and commerce in the United States

The CCR5 gene patent: biomedicine, intellectual property and commerce in the United States

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The patenting of the CCR5 gene has become emblematic both of how intellectual property law has changed the conduct and content of scientific knowledge as well as the social, political, and ethical implications of such a metamorphosis. Although historians of science have argued for decades now that scientific research is often not divorced from commercial interests, it seems that the patenting of human genes represents something very different not only in degree, but in kind. Although much has been written on the possible effects of gene patenting on future research, I proffer a specific, concrete example by investigating the material cultural history of CCR5 , one that includes the history of molecular biology, the sociology of science and technology, and the history of intellectual property law. The CCR5 patent is particularly interesting because it occurs at a period when the status of patenting genes was being renegotiated, the accuracy of computer sequencing for determining the function and utility was being challenged, and the nature of the deposited object vis à vis the written specification was being redefined. In short, it is a story about the simultaneous instability of a patent claim and the instability of the validity of a scientific technique to make a scientific claim.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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