The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has concluded the business of ruling on cases for the time being, and we thought that we would devote the next few blogs to an explanation of some of the more groundbreaking decisions that SCOTUS handed down in this session. Stay tuned next week for a look at SCOTUS’ landmark decisions on same-sex marriage. This week, we are focusing on a fascinating patent case – Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics.
Just as Jonas Salk once famously said that the polio vaccine could not be patented, and that it belonged to the public, so, too, did the Supreme Court of the United States decide just a couple of weeks ago that human genes may not be patented by those who discover them.
Utah-based Myriad Genetics is the company that isolated and patented the BRCA-1 and BRCA2 genes, the mutations on which are considered to dramatically increase the risk an individual has for developing breast and ovarian cancers.
An argument for allowing patents on genes is that it would encourage scientists (and their financial backers) to race towards the finish line, so to speak. The counterargument comes from those who argue that the access to affordable testing and treatment is hindered when one company or individual can claim the “rights” to such a discovery.
Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the decision for the unanimous court, argues that “Myriad did not create anything. To be sure, it found an important and useful gene, but separating that gene from its surrounding genetic material is not an act of invention.”
This decision will allow others to provide genetic testing, now that the patent on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes has been lifted. The results of allowing other scientists and laboratories the ability to provide genetic testing for patients, many argue, will lead to lower costs and greater access.
In response to the ruling, Myriad kept their focus on the fact that the justices said it is allowed to patent a type of synthetic DNA.
And in response to the ruling of the Supreme Court of our great nation – we hope that this emboldens our scientists, doctors and researchers to continue the battle against cancer and other terrible diseases that end lives too soon and cause immeasurable suffering for so many.