The Supreme Court has ruled against a Utah-based genetic testing company in a decision which defines the legal limits of ownership over the building blocks of life. The company, Myriad Genetics, has used broad gene patents to operate a monopoly over testing for the two BRCA genes, which when mutated can cause inherited forms of breast cancer. “In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court decided that simply isolating a natural DNA sequence is not a patentable invention. However, it upheld Myriad Genetics’s claims on complementary DNA, or cDNA, made from the BRCA genes.”
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What’s the Big Idea?
Without patents protecting the testing of certain genes, medical experts expect that genetics companies will be more eager to compete for customers, eventually driving down the cost of genetic testing. “We expect to launch a test [for BRCA1 and BRCA2] rather soon,” says Sherri Bale, managing director of GeneDX, a genetic-testing company in Gaithersburg, Maryland. “It should also become easier for companies like GeneDX to offer diagnostic panels including dozens of genes, to analyse genes that can trigger epilepsy, for example, or to look for specific mutations involved in tumours, helping to design individualised cancer therapy.”