The Supreme Court ruled against the ability of a company to maintain a patent on human genes. Myriad Genetics attempt to monopolize the capability to exclusively own use of human genes for specific cancer testing was dashed. The ruling was a unanimous one with nine judges deciding, unlike naturally occurring DNA, lab created DNA can be patented.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the court’s opinion. He stated, “Genes and the information they encode are not patent eligible…simply because they have been isolated from the surrounding genetic material.”
Myriad developed a crucial technique for precisely discovering genes that cause heightened risk of cancer. The company soon patented the discovery and actively discouraged competing labs from running such tests for identification of the mutated genes. Myriad admonished competitors that tried to duplicate the research by various forms of written and verbal notifications. The University of Pennsylvania’s Genetic Diagnostic Laboratory was notified by Myriad to stop any tests relate to this type of research.
Essentially the company sought to retain the rights of their mode of research and block others from the ability to utilize the technique for money making purposes. Patents often last a couple of years therefore; giving Myriad to profit before competition could become a real competitor in the field.
Myriad’s Stock price fell nearly 6% after the ruling. Myriad’s “dominant” market share “has nowhere to go but down,” stated Daniel Leonard of Leerink Swann in a note to clients. Competing labs have made their intentions known of entering the market to capitalize on the new ruling. Various labs will begin diversifying processes in light of the opinion put forth by Justice Thomas.
“Seems pretty clear that other people will be able to offer DNA testing for breast and ovarian cancer genes, which is central to their business,” says Charles Rothfeld, an attorney with Mayer Brown. Myriad’s monopolization of Cancer testing dashed; they looked on the brighter side of the ruling.
Myriad CEO Peter D. Meldrum stated the company can still protect its synthetic DNA patents, a key part of its business. He said of the ruling, “strong intellectual property protection for our BRACAnalysis test moving forward.” It is clear that Myriad will continue in their mode of research until other competitors catch up to their standard of practice. While they were stopped in their effort to maintain control of their mode of research, their head start is quite a formidable one in the industry.
“Much of the industry will be a winner in this,” according to attorney Sandra Park, a member of the American Civil Liberties Union Legal team that fought against Myriad. “There are many companies that want to offer genetic testing on patented genes. They’ve been unable to do that so far because of these types of patents.”
Myriad came into the spot light when they allegedly identified Actress Angelina Jolie as having a cancer causing gene. The faulty BRACA1 gene identified in the alleged test of Jolie caused her to go public with her plans for a preventive double mastectomy procedure.
By Thomas Barr
Supreme Court says human genes cannot be patented