US Supreme Court rules human genes may not be patented

Isolated human genes may not be patented,the Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Thursday. The case concerned patents held by Myriad Genetics

Written by New York Times | Washington | Published: June 14, 2013 1:01:27 am

ADAM LIPTAK

Isolated human genes may not be patented,the Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Thursday. The case concerned patents held by Myriad Genetics,a Utah company,on genes that correlate with increased risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

The patents were challenged by scientists and doctors who said their research and ability to help patients had been frustrated. The particular genes at issue received public attention after Angelina Jolie revealed in May that she had had a preventive double mastectomy after learning that she had inherited a faulty copy of a gene that put her at high risk for breast cancer.

The price of the test,often more than $3,000,was partly a product of Myriad’s patent,putting it out of reach for some women. The company filed patent infringement suits against others who conducted testing based on the gene. The price of the test “should come down significantly”,said Dr Harry Ostrer,one of the plaintiffs in the case decided Thursday. The ruling,he said,“will have an immediate impact on people’s health”.

The court’s ruling will also shape the course of scientific research and medical testing in other fields,and it may alter the willingness of businesses to invest in the expensive work of isolating and understanding genetic material.

The decision hewed closely to the position of the Obama administration,which had argued that isolated DNA could not be patented,but that complementary DNA,or cDNA,which is an artificial construct,could. The patentability of cDNA could limit some of the impact on industry from the decision.

Myriad’s stock price was up about 10 per cent in early trading,a sign that investors believed that Myriad had retained the ability to protect its business from competition.

Robert Cook-Deegan,a professor at Duke University’s Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy,said he thought Myriad would now face competition for testing for the breast cancer risk genes.

He said there were only a small number of diagnostic companies that relied on isolated DNA patents to protect their business,and that the impact of the decision on the broader biotechnology industry might be limited.

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