Human gene patent invalidated

by Chris Wolverton

This is good news, at least for now: a judge ruled today that patents on two human genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, are invalid because they were “improperly granted.” Lawyers representing the ACLU and the Public Patent Foundation argued that as products of nature, genes are outside the realm of patent law. The holder of the patents, Myriad Genetics, promises to appeal. They sell a test kit to screen for susceptibility to breast and ovarian cancers based on the gene sequences covered by the patent. The NY Times article states that Myriad charges $3000 for the kit. A routine PCR reaction to accomplish the same thing would cost about $1 in my estimation.

Of course, Myriad (and others) promises to appeal, claiming that these kinds of patents protect “intellectual property” and provide a necessary incentive for discovery. I call B.S. The fundamental research engine at work here is underwritten by NIH (= taxpayer) money. The genes at play in this particular case are licensed from the University of Utah, no doubt because BRCA1 was identified primarily by researchers at the University of Utah Medical Center. The study in which BRCA1 was described includes reference to no less than 7 NIH grants.

See further coverage in this article at Science.

UPDATE 31 March 11am: The NY Times has further coverage this morning, and another good piece providing further perspective.