We have important news, Truthseekers. Human genes cannot be patented. Score one for the little guy vs BIG Pharma.
Thanks, in part, to actress Angelina Jolie who underwent a preventative double-mastectomy as a result of genetic screening that revealed she had a serious risk of developing breast cancer, the US Supreme Court has decided that private companies cannot patent the human genome. Seems like an intuitive question that shouldn't be a government issue -- ever -- but in our ultra-capitalist society, everything has a price tag. Even our DNA.
Much like the legal questions surrounding reproductive rights, everything is political and every medical action carries a price tag. Do you ever wish you lived in, say, Sweden, where these issues are left to patients and their medical providers to decide -- not politicians? But I digress. ...
The NY Times reports:
"The Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Thursday. The case concerned patents held by Myriad Genetics, a Utah company, on genes that correlate with increased risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.
"The patents were challenged by scientists and doctors who said their research and ability to help patients had been frustrated. The particular genes at issue received public attention after the actress Angelina Jolie revealed in May that she had had a preventive double mastectomy after learning that she had inherited a faulty copy of a gene that put her at high risk for breast cancer.
"The price of the test, often more than $3,000, was partly a product of Myriad's patent, putting it out of reach for some women. The company filed patent infringement suits against others who conducted testing based on the gene. The price of the test is expected to fall because of Thursday's decision.
"The court's ruling will also shape the course of scientific research and medical testing in other fields, and it may alter the willingness of businesses to invest in the expensive work of isolating and understanding genetic material.
"The central question for the justices in the case, Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, No. 12-398, was whether isolated genes are 'products of nature' that may not be patented or 'human-made inventions' eligible for patent protection.
"Myriad's discovery of the precise location and sequence of the genes at issue, BRCA1 and BRCA2, did not qualify, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court. 'A naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated,' he said. 'It is undisputed that Myriad did not create or alter any of the genetic information encoded in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.'
"'Groundbreaking, innovative or even brilliant discovery does not by itself satisfy the criteria' for patent eligibility, he said.
"But manipulating a gene to create something not found in nature, Justice Thomas added, is an invention eligible for patent protection. He also left the door open for other ways for companies to profit from their research.
"They may patent the methods of isolating genes, he said. 'But the processes used by Myriad to isolate DNA were well understood by geneticists,' Justice Thomas wrote. He added that companies may also obtain patents on new applications of knowledge gained from genetic research."
This ruling will prevent companies from patenting genes in the future, which makes cancer-screening a little more accessible to us little guys. Why, it's almost like we lived in Europe! Thanks, SCOTUS! One step closer to a "normal" system of health care.
Too bad it takes a Supreme Court ruling to give us the protections every other Western society enjoys as a matter of course.