Should Human Genes be Patented?

The Supreme Court agrees to hear a case deciding if two cancer genes should continue to be protected by patent.

Dec 3, 2012
Edyta Zielinska

Wikimedia Commons, KeithBurtisIn August, an appeals court decided that Myriad Genetics Inc. had the right to keep its patents on two genes for ovarian and breast cancer. As a result, a large group of plaintiffs in the biomedical community including patient advocates, small companies, and physicians, petitioned the Supreme Court to invalidate the lower court’s finding. Last Friday (November 30), the Court agreed to hear the case.

Two researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, Arupa Ganguly and Haig Kazazian, had developed a novel method for screening for the two genes. Myriad accused the two of patent infringement in 1998, spurring the first court cases on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene patents. Currently the patent allows Myriad to create and distribute screening tests for the two genes.

The case is expected to have far reaching impacts in the medical community and genetic research in general. “DNA occurs naturally in the human body and cannot be patented by a single company that can then use its patents to limit scientific research and the free exchange of ideas,” Chris Hansen, lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which filed an appeal told the AFP News Agency.

The Supreme Court will hear the case in March of 2013 and is expected to render its decision in June, according to the AFP.