News / USA

    US High Court: Human Genes Not Patentable

    Detail of the West Facade of the U.S. Supreme Court, Washington, March 7, 2011.Detail of the West Facade of the U.S. Supreme Court, Washington, March 7, 2011.
    x
    Detail of the West Facade of the U.S. Supreme Court, Washington, March 7, 2011.
    Detail of the West Facade of the U.S. Supreme Court, Washington, March 7, 2011.
    The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that companies cannot patent human genes in their natural state. Patients’ rights groups are calling the decision a victory. The court, however, left room to protect patents on key biotechnology applications.

    Myriad Genetics identified genes that raise a patient’s risk for breast and ovarian cancer. The company lifted those genes from the full set of genetic information that makes up a human being, and patented them. That gave Myriad exclusive rights over the use of those genes.

    The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has been allowing patents on isolated DNA for three decades, said attorney Sandra Park with the American Civil Liberties Union.

    “What was problematic about these patents was that Myriad was able to use those patents to stop other laboratories from providing genetic testing, even when those other laboratories were using different methods,” she said.

    Park said that means genetic testing for breast and ovarian cancer risk is more expensive than if other labs could compete with Myriad. And patients could not get a second opinion on an important medical issue.  

    In a unanimous decision, however, the court struck down this type of patent because the genes are products of nature.

    Lisbeth Ceriani was a plaintiff in the case. She is a breast cancer survivor who struggled to afford Myriad’s test.

    “Our genes are not being held hostage by a private corporation anymore. We have the right to know that our doctor can look at our own genes and know what is there,” said Ceriani.

    Supporters say the ruling will lower costs and improve access to testing for this and other genetic conditions for which companies have patents. Also, researchers will be able to share data that results from genetic testing, hopefully moving them closer to better treatment and prevention.

    Myriad Genetics, however, also created versions of the genes called complimentary DNA [cDNA] - basically, cleaned-up versions of the genes - and patented those, too.

    The Supreme Court said those patents are okay because cDNA does not exist in nature.

    Jennifer Swize, an attorney for the company, said, “To Myriad, the decision is a win. For all practical purposes, companies like Myriad use cDNA to do their testing.”

    Swize said the company will continue to move forward because it has 24 patents on its breast and ovarian cancer gene research, and the court only struck down five of those.

    And cDNA is hugely important to the biotechnology industry. Insulin to treat diabetics is produced using cDNA, for example.

    Paul Berghoff, an attorney for the Intellectual Property Owners Association, wrote in support of Myriad in the case. “Nobody in the biotech industry is going to be dancing in the streets because of this, but I don’t think this is too much of a setback, if any.”

    Observers note that Myriad’s stock price rose after the decision, suggesting the markets saw the decision as a positive one for the biotech industry.

    Steve Baragona

    Steve Baragona is an award-winning multimedia journalist covering science, environment and health.

    He spent eight years in molecular biology and infectious disease research before deciding that writing about science was more fun than doing it. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a master’s degree in journalism in 2002.

    You May Like

    Russian-speaking Muslim Exiles Fear Possible Russia-Turkey Thaw

    Exiled from Russia as Islamic radicals and extremists, thousands found asylum in Turkey

    US Presidential Election Ends at Conventions for Territorial Citizens

    Citizens of US territories like Guam or Puerto Rico enjoy participation in US political process but are denied right to vote for president

    UN Syria Envoy: 'Devil Is in the Details' of Russian Aleppo Proposal

    UN uncertain about the possible humanitarian impact of Russian proposal to establish escape corridors in Aleppo

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: bean cube from: Seattle WA
    June 14, 2013 2:15 AM
    After I named something of an entity, the future of that entity is mine. What stupidities can you foresee about these language created laws?

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Busi
    X
    July 28, 2016 4:16 AM
    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United States

    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora