The Supreme Court of the United States ruled today that human genes cannot be patented. This decision, relating to Myriad’s patents for the Brca1 and Brca2 gene sequences that are indicative of a likelihood of breast cancer, may have immediate benefits for some breast and ovarian cancer patients. However, it is likely to have long-lasting repercussions for biotechnology research.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the decision for a unanimous court. “Myriad did not create anything,” Thomas said. “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 justices did however that a type of DNA that goes beyond extracting genes from the body can be patented.
A consortium of cancer patients, researchers and geneticists that interestingly included a group associated with Yeshiva University, argued that Myriad’s patent raised costs, restricted research and sometimes even resulted in women having breasts or ovaries removed without sufficient facts or second opinions.
Association for Molecular Pathology et al v Myriad Genetics Inc et al. Full decision here.
This opinion is of interest to Israel, not just because of Israeli research into identifying gene sequences associated with different diseases, but because back in October 2008, in Circular M.N. 64, the Israel Commissioner of Patents announced that gene sequences can now be patented in Israel. See Gene Sequences are now patentable in Israel. I am not sure whether Dr Noam actually had the authority to decide that genes were patentable, but until this circular is canceled, the Israel Patent Office will, apparently, continue to grant claims for gene sequences.