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Court Says Company Can't Patent Breast Cancer Gene

A federal judge ruled Monday that seven patents related to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes held by Myriad Genetics were “improperly granted” as they related to the “laws of nature,” according to The New York Times.  Myriad sells a test costing more than $3,000 that looks for mutations in the two genes to determine if a woman is at a high risk of getting breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Plaintiffs in the case had said Myriad’s monopoly on the test, conferred by the gene patents, kept prices high and prevented women from getting a confirmatory test from another laboratory.

Myriad, which claims that “the work of isolating the DNA from the body transforms it and makes it patentable,” is a beneficiary of a multi-billion dollar system that will certainly appeal the decision to retain their stake in the biotech industry.

Among other organizations, the AMA strongly supported the decision.  According to J. James Rohack, MD, president of the AMA, the “decision to invalidate breast cancer gene patents is a clear legal victory that prevents overly broad medical patents from harming patients’ access to care. Physicians should not be stifled in what care they can provide because a part of human biology has been patented.”

“By staking claims on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, Myriad Genetics exclusively controlled the use of these breast cancer genes when isolated from the human body. These patents gave Myriad a broad monopoly that hampered scientific discovery and medical care,” said Rohack.  “The practice of granting gene patents based on isolating DNA from the body is a lawyer’s trick that circumvents prohibitions on the direct patenting of DNA. The court correctly held that Myriad’s gene patents were invalid because the company had not invented a unique DNA sequence, the company had only removed DNA that naturally exists in the body.”

One comment

  1. There’s a fascinating take on this at the Skeptic’s Health Journal, sort of provides some of the background to the debate, if interested you can read on it here, http://healthjournalclub.blogspot.com/

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