Top US court throws out human gene patents

Washington: The US Supreme Court today threw out a lower court ruling allowing human genes to be patented, a topic of enormous interest to cancer researchers, patients and drug makers.

The court overturned patents belonging to Myriad Genetics Inc. of Salt Lake City on two genes linked to increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Myriad's BRACAnalysis test looks for mutations on the breast cancer predisposition gene, or BRCA. Those mutations are associated with much greater risks of breast and ovarian cancer.

The American Civil Liberties Union has been arguing that genes couldn't be patented, a position taken by a district court judge but overturned on appeal.

 Top US court throws out human gene patents

A picture shows a chemical fingerprint. The American Civil Liberties Union has been arguing that genes couldn't be patented, a position taken by a district court judge but overturned on appeal. AFP

The justices' decision sends the case back down for a continuation of the battle between the scientists who believe that genes carrying the secrets of life should not be exploited for commercial gain and companies that argue that a patent is a reward for years of expensive research that moves science forward.

In 2010, a federal judge ruled that genes cannot be patented. US District Judge Robert Sweet said he invalidated the patents because DNA's existence in an isolated form does not alter the fundamental quality of DNA as it exists in the body nor the information it encodes.

But last year, a divided panel of the federal appeals court in Washington that handles patent cases reversed Sweet's ruling. The appeals court said genes can be patented because the isolated DNA has a "markedly different chemical structure" from DNA within the body.

The Supreme Court threw out that decision, and sent the case back to the lower courts for rehearing. The high court said it sent the case back for rehearing because of its decision in another case last week saying that the laws of nature are unpatentable.

AP

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Updated Date: Mar 27, 2012 10:04:41 IST