Companies can't patent human genes, court rules

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled companies can't patent human genes. That doesn't mean all is lost for biotech companies.

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled natural human genetic sequences cannot be patented, deeming genes products of nature.

In other words, simply identifying and isolating a gene doesn't mean a company or individual created anything. Nature did.

The case involves Myriad Genetics, a molecular diagnostics company that holds patents on BRCA1 and BRCA2, the genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer. Patients and doctors, who are claiming victory from the ruling, have argued the patents interfere with research and restrict access to genetic testing.

Myriad Genetics isn't losing all of its patents. The court ruled five of Myriad's claims covering isolated DNA were not patent eligible. The court did determine that DNA molecules synthesized in a lab were eligible for patent. Myriad says it still has 24 different patents for its BRAC analysis test.

The Supreme Court ruling will have an immediate effect on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which has been awarding gene patents for 30 years, and doctors will likely include results for the two BRCA genes in any genetic testing. Until now, Myriad's patents required doctors to mask those two genes when performing tests on patients not involved in research studies, reported Bloomberg.

That doesn't mean the changes will negatively affect all biotech companies. The ruling could hurt small biotechnology companies, many of which have based their entire businesses on genomic DNA patents. Myriad's patent portfolio is far more diverse than other small firms, one reason the company's stock price actually rose after the ruling.

J. Craig Venter, the founder and CEO of Synthetic Genetics, supported the ruling saying it is "consistent with our views on gene patents" and it is "good news for the biotech industry as it clarifies the rules and reduces uncertainty."

What do you think of the ruling and its potential impact on innovation, research and the future of genetic testing?

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