Genetics at the Supreme Court 1: patenting genes

In a unanimous 9-0 decision, the US Supreme Court has ruled that human genes cannot be patented. The implication of this important case, Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, is that genetic tests may become much cheaper. Myriad held patents on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which are associated with breast and ovarian cancer. Its tests, which cost about US$3,000, were far too expensive for many women. Some observers have optimistically declared that the price could sink to $100.

Thousands of genes have been patented over the past 30 years, so the decision could open up new avenues for tests, medicine and genetic research.

“Myriad did not create anything,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the decision. “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 court’s decision did not come as a surprise and Myriad’s share price actually rose briefly, before falling by about 5%. The court upheld its claims on complementary DNA. 

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