SCOTUS decides genes not patentable

I’ll leave it to Ed Brayton and friends to parse the decision. All I know is I think it’s the only possible right one and it was unanimous:

NYT — Isolated human genes may not be patented, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Thursday. The case concerned patents held by Myriad Genetics, a Utah company, on genes that correlate with increased risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

The patents were challenged by scientists and doctors who said their research and ability to help patients had been frustrated. The particular genes at issue received public attention after the actress Angelina Jolie revealed in May that she had had a preventive double mastectomy after learning that she had inherited a faulty copy of a gene that put her at high risk for breast cancer.

Because Myriad was able to patent a specific derivative of that gene’s base pair sequence — yeah I have no idea how they did that — the test to detect it cost three grand and is rarely covered under middle class employer sponsored insurance plans.

This SCOTUS decision is fairly complete, but not a 100% rebuke. There’s some slippery language that isn’t completely clear. But all in all, it’s not bad:

Daily Kos — However, the Court unanimously found, Myriad could patent its synthetically created exons-only strands of nucleotides known as composite complementary DNA (cDNA). cDNA, as Justice Thomas explains, contains only the exons that occur in DNA, omitting the intervening introns. The ACLU had argued against patenting cDNA as well, claiming that if DNA was a newspaper the cDNA was just the same newspaper without ad clutter, but the Court disagreed, concisely.


  1. machintelligence says

    As the cost of sequencing drops, why not do the whole genome and get the BRCA genes as a part of it. It looks as if their specific test will soon be irrelevant.

  2. erk12 says

    Since genetic testing can be done using the genomic sequence*, it’s possible this ruling will allow anyone to make that test Jolie had (and other genetic tests) and bring down the cost significantly.

    *I haven’t looked up how this specific test is done, (I work only with cDNA), but I think most genetic testing for humans actually uses the far-more abundant genomic DNA rather than copying RNA into cDNA.

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