Thursday, June 13, 2013

US Supreme court says NO to patenting natural human genes

Today the US Supreme Court rendered a unanimous decision in the case Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics: "A naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated, but cDNA is patent eligible because it is not naturally occurring."

In the court ruling, Justice Clarence Thomas rejects several claims including "the idea that by isolating the gene and separating it from the surrounding chromosome, Myriad had created something new".  Thomas makes the argument cDNA is patentable because it is not a "product of nature". He writes "cDNA does not present the same obstacles to patentability as naturally occurring, isolated DNA segments. Its creation results in an exons-only molecule, which is not naturally occurring. Its order of the exons may be dictated by nature, but the lab technician unquestionably creates something new when introns are removed from a DNA sequence to make cDNA".

This led to one of my favorite tweets from this afternoon:

What does this mean for a patient seeking a genetic test (e.g. the BRCA1, BRCA2 genes)?  Competing companies offering genetic tests no longer have to pay the high licensing fees and hopefully can make the cost accessible to the consumer.

As expected, this decision has major implications for the medical genetics community.  Twitter exploded with responses from various groups in the genetics and genomics community with hashtags #cDNA and #SCOTUS trending.

Interestingly, by this afternoon Myriad released a statement claiming victory: "'We believe the Court appropriately upheld our claims on cDNA, and underscored the patent eligibility of our method claims, ensuring strong intellectual property protection for our BRACAnalysis test moving forward,' said Peter D. Meldrum, president and CEO".   Of course, not everyone agrees with this statement including Myriad's stock holders it seems...

Overall, today was a wonderful day for the genetics community and for, most importantly, the patients and their families.

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