The U.S. Supreme Court appeared sceptical of biotech companies patenting human genes, in a huge genetics case heard on Monday.
The case turns on two Myriad Genetics patents for isolated genes that show whether women have a significantly increased chance of getting breast cancer or ovarian cancer.
Cancer advocacy groups and patients have argued the patents could stymie cancer research. They also say you can’t patent “products of nature.” It appears some of the justices, both conservative and liberal, agree that Myriad hasn’t made anything new that it should be able to patent.
“You haven’t created a type of gene that does not exist in the body,” Justice Antonin Scalia said to the lawyer representing Myriad, according to NPR.
Meanwhile, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the two isolated genes were “just nature sitting there,” The New York Times reported.
This case could have huge implications for companies that want to use the two patented Myraid genes in research for breast cancer — which is very common — and ovarian cancer, which is notoriously hard to treat. Currently, companies would have to get permission to do research using those isolated genes.
“The cures to many illnesses and conditions affecting human health lie within genetic research and how the court decides the fundamental question of patentability will have enormous implications for the future of that kind of research,” top Supreme Court litigator Carter Phillips previously told BI in an email message.
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