What My Patients Are Asking: Follow-up on the Supreme Court’s Ruling That Human Genes Can’t Be Patented

By on July 10th, 2013 Categories: News

The Supreme Court has ruled 9-0 that human genes cannot be patented. The Court ruled unanimously in this case that Myriad Genetics’ patents on the BRCA1 and 2 genes were invalid. The decision is a victory for patients and for industry.

This is good news for patients because access to genetic testing will improve. I spoke with George Prendergast, Ph.D., editor-in-chief of Cancer Research and president of the Lankenau Institute for Medical Research, who holds patents on certain gene products himself. “The bottom line,” said Prendergast, “is they [Myriad] are going to decrease their price in order to compete with other companies who will now be able to develop testing.” In fact, a handful of companies have already said they’ll begin to develop the test themselves. The decision, through creating competition in the market, should make the test less expensive and more readily available for patients.

The court also held that cDNA will remain patent-protected. cDNA is a man-made copy of the BRCA1 and 2 genes that can be used in the laboratory. What this means is Myriad and many other biotech companies will continue to hold many patents related to the man-made versions of BRCA1 and 2 as well as other genes. The outcome of the case, therefore, is a victory for scientists and companies who wish to protect their intellectual property and inventions.

I think this is a good decision by the court that both patients and scientists can be happy about. Whether it will usher in a new revolution of genetic discoveries remains to be seen; there are many challenges to the development of gene tests and therapies that face patients and scientists. This ruling is clearly a step in the right direction.

Brian S. Wojciechowski, M.D. joined the Breastcancer.org team as medical adviser in July 2012. He specializes in the care of patients with cancer and practices medical oncology in Delaware County, Pennsylvania at Riddle, Taylor, and Crozer Hospitals. A proud native of South Philadelphia, he trained at Temple University School of Medicine and Lankenau Medical Center. His research has been presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, the world's largest scientific meeting on breast cancer. Dr. Wojciechowski is a sought-after speaker on the topics of medical ethics and the biology of cancer. Beyond medicine, he is devoted to his faith, his family, and his guitar. He sees cancer as a scientifically complex disease with unique psychological, social, and spiritual dimensions, a perspective he takes into relationships with patients.

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