Supreme Court On Genes: Human DNA Not Eligible For Patent Protection, Unless Synthetically Produced [VIDEO]
The Supreme Court genes case was decided Thursday, with both patients and biotechnology industry folks benefiting from the final ruling. In what is being heralded as a partial victory for both parties, The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously voted to prohibit naturally occurring human genes from being patented, but said synthetically produced DNA material could be legally protected, Reuters reports.
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The Supreme Court's nine justices all agreed that Myriad Genetics, a Salt Lake City, Utah-based biotechnology company, cannot patent two famous breast cancer genes.
"Myriad did not create anything," Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the ruling. "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."
The case, Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, No. 12-398, centered on the question of whether or not isolated genes occur naturally -- in which case they can't be patented -- or are "human made inventions," and therefore are eligible for legal protection.
The ruling does not come as a major shock to the biotech industry - in fact, Myriad's stock jumped about 4 percent on the news. That's in part because the court made clear that the decision does not involve new applications of knowledge from studying genes, including tests for dangerous mutations, like the one Myriad has for the BRCA genes. It also did not rule on DNA sequences that have been manipulated by scientists.
The court decision comes on the heals of a celebrity confession. When actress Angelina Jolie declared in May that she underwent a preventive double mastectomy after learning she carried an irregular breast cancer gene, she brought the concept of genetic patenting to the forefront of scientific debates, mainly because the test she had done that caught the irregularity cost $3,000.
Partly because Myriad had a patent on the gene test, the test is well out of reach of being affordable for most women.
"[The ruling] will have an immediate impact on people's health," Dr. Harry Ostrer, one of the plaintiffs in the case, told New York Times.
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