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Supreme Court Ruling on Patenting Human Genes

Posted 6/13/2013

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  This is important. The Supreme Court has just announced a unanimous ruling that it is illegal to patent human genes. For us, this relates to the patent Myriad Genetics has held on testing for the BRCA1 and BRACA2 gene mutations; they have, until now, "owned" the patent on human genes. No more.

   Since the ruling has just been announced, the details are still coming out. I suspect that the ruling itself is long and complicated, and that it will take a while for lawyers and journalists to read and process it. There likely are a number of details to be understood. For example, Ambry Genetics has developed another screening test for people who tested negative for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, but have a personal or family history that seems quite suspicious for a gene mutation. Called the Next Gen Panel Testing, Breast Next, it identifies a number of "variants of unknown significance". What happens now to them? Can variants be owned? (I am guessing not)

  What is very clear is that the public is the immediate winner here. Genetic testing through Myriad Labs, which has held the patent and been the only lab able to offer the test, costs about $3000 for the full panel, and insurance does not always cover the cost. Very soon, it will be less expensive.

  Here is the beginning of the first announcement from CNN Politics and a link to read more:

CNN) -- The Supreme Court has made a decision in a case examining whether human genes are patentable. Details of the ruling are expected shortly.

The case involves Utah-based company Myriad Genetics, which was sued over its claim of patents relating to two types of biological material that it identified -- BCRA-1 and BCRA-2, whose mutations are linked to increased hereditary risk for breast and ovarian cancer.

Since Myriad owns the patent on breast cancer genes, it is the only company that can perform tests for potential abnormalities.

At issue is whether "products of nature" can be treated the same as "human-made" inventions, allowing them to be held as the exclusive intellectual property of individuals and companies.


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