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Update: US court says human genes cannot be patented

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Posted June 17, 2013
A technician loads patient samples into a machine for testing at Myriad Genetics Friday, May 31, 2002, in Salt Lake City. DNA samples are moved from one tray to another by the eight-needle apparatus at left. The Supreme Court ruled Thursday, June 13, 2013 that Myriad Genetics Inc. cannot patent the BRCA genes, which are tested to check a woman's risk for breast and ovarian cancer. Mutations in these genes are what led Angelina Jolie to have both her breasts removed because she had such a high cancer risk. Some experts think the court ruling may lead to lower cost testing because there could be more competition. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac)

A technician loads patient samples into a machine for testing at Myriad Genetics Friday, May 31, 2002, in Salt Lake City. DNA samples are moved from one tray to another by the eight-needle apparatus at left. The Supreme Court ruled Thursday, June 13, 2013 that Myriad Genetics Inc. cannot patent the BRCA genes, which are tested to check a woman’s risk for breast and ovarian cancer. Mutations in these genes are what led Angelina Jolie to have both her breasts removed because she had such a high cancer risk. Some experts think the court ruling may lead to lower cost testing because there could be more competition. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously threw out attempts to patent human genes, siding with advocates who say the multibillion-dollar biotechnology industry should not have exclusive control over genetic information found inside the human body.

But the high court also approved for the first time the patenting of synthetic DNA, handing a victory to researchers and companies looking to come up with ways to fight—and profit—from medical breakthroughs that could reverse life-threatening diseases such as breast or ovarian cancer.

The decision “sets a fair and level playing field for open and responsible use of genetic information,” said Dr. Robert B. Darnell, president and scientific director of the New York Genome Center. “At the same time, it does not preclude the opportunity for innovation in the genetic world, and should be seen as an important clarifying moment for research and the healthcare industry.”

The high court’s judgment, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, reverses three decades of patent awards by government officials and throws out patents held by Myriad Genetics Inc. involving a breast cancer test brought into the public eye recently by actress Angelina Jolie’s revelation that she had a double mastectomy.

Jolie said she carries a defective BRCA1 gene that puts her at high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers, and her doctor said the test that turned up the faulty gene link led Jolie to have both of her healthy breasts removed. Jolie’s mother died of ovarian cancer and her maternal grandmother also had the disease.

The high court’s ruling immediately prompted one of Myriad’s competitors to announce it would offer the same test at a far lower price.

Read more at: MedicalXpress.com

 

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