BREAKING: SCOTUS Rules Human Genes Cannot Be Patented

Image courtesy of Breast Cancer Action
Image courtesy of Breast Cancer Action

In a ruling that is a victory for everyone who suffers from a genetic predisposition to disease, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled today that human genes cannot be patented. The case that was argued before the court on April 15, 2013 questioned whether Myriad Genetics had the right to patent the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes they discovered. These genes are associated with hereditary breast cancer. Women who have the BRCA1 mutation have an 87% chance of developing breast cancer by the time they are 70 years old.The petitioners, Association for Molecular Pathology, represented by the ACLU, argued that Myriad Genetics could not patent genes they merely discovered because they are naturally occurring, and the justices agreed.

Held: 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.

Because Myriad Genetics held a patent on the genes they were able to charge over $3000 to perform the test and restrict research on those genes that could lead to future treatments or diagnostic tools. Myriad, who has tested over one million women since the late 1990s, argued that the ability to patent the gene was how they were repaid for their time spent researching the genes to isolate them.?Their arguments fell far short of convincing the court, and all nine justices ruled against them. The ACLU issued a statement on the ruling stating in part:

Today, the court struck down a major barrier to patient care and medical innovation,” said Sandra Park, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Myriad did not invent the BRCA genes and should not control them. Because of this ruling, patients will have greater access to genetic testing and scientists can engage in research on these genes without fear of being sued.

I have been following this case for a very long time because of my family history and experience with the gene. My sister was diagnosed with Breast Cancer at the age of 38, and in the testing that followed, found out that she had the BRCA1 mutation. Given that I had a 50 – 50 chance of also having the gene, I elected to be tested as well. We were lucky.? Insurance covered the cost of the test; not everyone is that lucky. There are many women out there who don’t have insurance or their insurance won’t cover the cost of the test. Now, there is a chance that the cost will come down enough to be affordable for them or to convince more insurance companies to cover the cost.


Edited and published by WP.