U.S. Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Gene Patentability

On Monday, The U.S. Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments in the case against Myriad Genetics to decide whether a human gene can be patented. Myriad Genetics holds patents for two genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2) that are known to influence the risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

At issue is whether a human gene, as a product of nature, can be patented. Under the Patent Law, things that naturally occur in nature are not patentable. Some skeptics have made the comparison of patenting a human gene to be no different than simply picking a plant in the forest and getting a patent on it. In fact, yesterday the US Supreme Court Justices made analogies to patenting a hypothetical plant in the Amazon that exhibited miraculous powers and a recipe for chocolate chip cookies.

Myriad argues that it has not patented human genes. Instead, Myriad has patented its own discoveries – discoveries that have cost them over $500 million to make – which resulted in synthetic molecules they isolated and created in the lab to provide life-saving tests.

Opponents say the Myriad patents stagnate progress in the field, preventing others from using the discoveries and perfecting and advancing the technology, while driving up the costs for health care.

The outcome of this case will have a significant impact in the BioTech sector. Until then, the complexities of this case will certainly challenge the Supreme Court Justices.

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