KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Supreme Court To Decide Crucial Case On Patenting Human Genes

The high court will hear a challenge to Myriad Genetics' patent of breast and ovarian cancer genes in a case that will affect the future of biomedical research, the fight against diseases like breast and ovarian cancer and a multi-billion dollar biotechnology business.

The Associated Press: Supreme Court To Hear Arguments Over Whether Human Genes Can Be Patented
DNA may be the building block of life, but can something taken from it also be the building block of a multimillion-dollar medical monopoly? The Supreme Court grapples Monday with the question of whether human genes can be patented. Its ultimate answer could reshape U.S. medical research, the fight against diseases like breast and ovarian cancer and the multi-billion dollar medical and biotechnology business (Holland, 4/15).

NPR: Supreme Court Asks: Can Human Genes Be Patented? 
Myriad Genetics, a Utah biotechnology company, discovered and isolated two genes — BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 — that are highly associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. Myriad patented its discovery, giving it a 20-year monopoly over use of the genes for research, diagnostics and treatment. A group of researchers, medical groups and patients sued, challenging the patent as invalid. There is no way to overstate the importance of this case to the future of science and medicine (Totenberg, 4/15).

The New York Times: Justices Consider Whether Patents On Genes Are Valid
Opponents of gene patents say no company should have rights to what is essentially part of the human body. They contend that Myriad’s monopoly has impeded medical progress and access to testing — in some cases denying patients their own genetic information. Myriad and its allies in the biotechnology industry counter that a ruling that invalidates gene patents would upend three decades of patenting practice and undermine billions of dollars of investments to develop not only genetic tests but also biotech drugs, DNA-based vaccines and genetically modified crops. (Pollack, 4/14).

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