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Human genes cannot be patented, Supreme Court rules

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 13th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

In what is seen as a huge victory for the medical community, the Supreme Court has outlawed the patenting of human genes. This is being welcomed by both oncologists and cancer patients, who want more freedom to experiment with treatments using genetic material.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Passing unanimously 9 - 0, the vote is being heralded by both patients and doctors who had challenged a Utah company's exclusive control over a defective gene sequence that is linked to cancer.

The Supreme Court justices rejected decisions by the U.S. patent office that allowed companies to claim control over human genes they had isolated. "We hold that a naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent-eligible merely because it has been isolated," Justice Clarence Thomas said, speaking for the court.

Utah company Myriad Genetics held patents to two gene sequences that were mutations. This technique served to predict which patient had a high risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer. The company was harshly criticized and denounced for charging high prices to women who wanted to be tested to see if they had the defective gene.

The high court said Myriad should not have been given this patent license in the first place.
"Myriad did not create anything. To be sure, it found an important and useful gene, but separating that gene from its surrounding genetic material is not an act of invention," Thomas said.

Myriad has not been left stripped bare on account of the decision, however. The court said the company can maintain valid patents for "synthetically created DNA" which it created in a lab. In contrast to human genes, these synthetic combinations are "not naturally occurring" in the body and therefore can qualify as inventions, Thomas said.

The compromise outcome, which was urged by the Obama administration, will have less impact on Myriad. The Myriad patents in dispute will all expire by 2015.

Myriad's shares jumped more than eight percent to $36.83 after the ruling was issued. The ruling means that some of Myriad's patents concerning synthetic molecules called cDNA will likely survive, although the parties disagree on that point.


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