(AP)—The Supreme Court on Monday threw out a lower court ruling
allowing human genes to be patented, a topic of enormous interest to
cancer researchers, patients and drug makers.
court overturned patents belonging to Myriad Genetics Inc. of Salt Lake
City on two genes linked to increased risk of breast and ovarian
BRACAnalysis test looks for mutations on the breast cancer
predisposition gene, or BRCA. Those mutations are associated with much
greater risks of breast and ovarian cancer.
American Civil Liberties Union has been arguing that genes couldn’t be
patented, a position taken by a district court judge but overturned on
justices’ decision sends the case back down for a continuation of the
battle between the scientists who believe that genes carrying the
secrets of life should not be exploited for commercial gain and
companies that argue that a patent is a reward for years of expensive
research that moves science forward.
2010, a federal judge ruled that genes cannot be patented. U.S.
District Judge Robert Sweet said he invalidated the patents because
DNA’s existence in an isolated form does not alter the fundamental
quality of DNA as it exists in the body nor the information it encodes.
last year, a divided panel of the federal appeals court in Washington
that handles patent cases reversed Sweet’s ruling. The appeals court
said genes can be patented because the isolated DNA has a “markedly
different chemical structure” from DNA within the body.
Supreme Court threw out that decision, and sent the case back to the
lower courts for rehearing. The high court said it sent the case back
for rehearing because of its decision in another case last week saying
that the laws of nature are unpatentable.
that case, the court unanimously threw out patents on a Prometheus
Laboratories, Inc., test that could help doctors set drug doses for
autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s disease.
question before us is whether the claims do significantly more than
simply describe these natural relations,” said Justice Stephen Breyer,
who wrote the opinion in the Prometheus Laboratories case. “To put the
matter more precisely, do the patent claims add enough to their
statements of the correlations to allow the processes they describe to
qualify as patent-eligible processes that apply natural law? We believe
the answer to this question is no.”
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has been awarding patents on human genes for almost 30 years.
for mutations in the so-called BRCA genes has been around for just over
a decade. Women with a faulty gene have a three to seven times greater
risk of developing breast cancer and a higher risk of ovarian cancer.
can also carry a BRCA mutation, raising their risk of prostate,
pancreatic and other types of cancer. The mutations are most common in
people of eastern European Jewish descent.
Myriad Genetics Inc. sells the only BRCA gene test.
The case is Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, 11-725.
Source: The Associated Press