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Supreme Court Could Decide About Patenting Genes

Story By: Larry Stine

 

 

 
 
 
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  Original Published: 5/26/2013  Should a company be allowed to patent human genes?    CNN's Poppy Harlow reports the Supreme Court could soon decide.   Her announcement made headlines around the world.   Angelina Jolie underwent a double mastectomy after a genetic test showed she had a mutated B-R-C-A-1 gene, giving her an 87-percent chance of getting breast cancer.   Her news put this company, Myriad Genetics, front and center. It's not a big player in the big picture of big biotech companies, but it has patents on the Brace 1 and 2 genes.   When mutated, those genes are linked to an increased risk for breast and ovarian cancer.   Because of those patents, Myriad has a monopoly on the test to find those mutations.   "We believe gene patents of this nature decrease access to testing for our patients and the lack of competition in testing increases cost and decreases quality," says Dr. Roger Klein of the Association for Molecular Pathology.   Klein represents the Association for Molecular Pathology, which is challenging Myriad, all the way to the Supreme Court.   "The problem with patenting the human gene is you are patenting a fundamental property of an individual," says Dr. Klein.   Myriad Genetics declined out request for an on-camera interview but told us what it patented are synthetic molecules that do not exist in the human body.   The question at the heart of the case before the Supreme Court is this: Can genes or synthetic genes be patented or are they products of nature that shouldn't be owned by anyone?   "This case is such a big deal because so many people think the future of medicine is genetics," says CNN Reporter Poppy Harlow. "Looking at genes, analying genes, treating genes and how the law regards genes and synthetic genes will dictate how and whether companies invest to find new cures."   Myriad says it invested $500-million over 17 years in the project. That investment is paying off.   Its Brace Analysis test costs up to $4,000, often covered by insurance, and made up 82-percent of the company's revenue in fiscal 2012. The company's profit - $112-million.   Biotech analyst Steve Brozak has followed Myriad for more than a decade.   "Are they going to stop researchers from going out there and using their work? No, but the idea is if someone else tries to do what they're doing commercially, they have to be protected and that's the critical difference," says CNN Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin.   Myria argues patenting genes encourages innovation and investment and hasn't prevented research. Others disagree.   "We're at the cusp of the introduction of new technologies, and certainly these patents can do nothing but obsturct the introduction of those technologies," says Brozak.   The Supreme Court's ruling will have broad implications at a time when companies are increasingly focusing on personalized medicine. A decision is expected by late June.
   
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