Can a company patent a human gene? The showdown comes on Monday!

Next Monday, after conflicting rulings in other courts over the past 4 years, the case of Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics will be fought out before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). At stake is the complex issue of exactly what is patentable related to the isolation and use of portions of the human genome (and other, related issues).

We keep referring to this case every so often on The “New” Prostate Cancer InfoLink because the final decision of SCOTUS in resolution of this case is likely to have profound effects on, at the very least:

  • The ability to patent a vast range of processes related to the use of genetic data that are fundamental to the evolution of scientific research
  • The ability of the biotechnology industry to own and claim royalty payments on specific rights and processes that will affect the future development of personalized medicine
  • The future management of prostate cancer in particular

To give you an idea of the sheer size of the problem, since 1984 the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has granted more than 40,000 patents tied to genetic material — including Myriad Genetics’ patents on the extraction and isolation of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes (which is what this specific lawsuit is all about).

If you want an update on the state of play as Monday rolls toward us, there is a very good one on the USA Today web site. Unsurprisingly, this case engenders nearly as much angst in the biotechnology, medical, and scientific communities (and among venture capitalists) as does Roe v. Wade in the pro- and anti-abortion communities. However SCOTUS decides this case, at least one of the combatants will likely claim the decision is a disaster (unless SCOTUS can find some wriggle-room to squirm through).

2 Responses

  1. Wasn’t this an episode of “Boston Legal” a while back? The outcome as I recall went with Big Pharma.


  2. For those interested, you can listen to the entire, unedited, oral argument when the audio transcript is posted at the SCOTUS website (at this link), which is usually done by the end of the week that the case is argued. You might gain some insight as to how the Court may rule and a better understanding of the issues the Court must decide, without having to listen to post-argument spin presented by (some) media and those on each side of the case.The link is:

    The legal briefs of the parties are also posted online, which you should read before listening to the oral argument if you want to try to determine what legal propositions each Justice supports or with which the Justice disagrees.

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