The Supreme Court recently released a much awaited decision on Myriad Genetics’ ability to patent two genes linked to cancer, BRCA1 and BRCA2. In a unanimous ruling, SCOTUS held that human genes cannot be patented.
Myriad Genetics isolated the two problem genes that indicate a high risk of breast and ovarian cancer and created a test that allows women to see if they have the genes. Because of its patent on the two genes, Myriad had a monopoly on the test, making it quite expensive.
The ruling will allow rival genetic testing companies to offer the test as well, which may reduce the price for consumers. However, rival initial offerings do not seem to be much lower in price so far.
The result is not as straightforward as some of the plaintiffs had hoped because the ability to patent man-made “cDNA” was left intact in some cases. cDNA is a simplified version of DNA with specific inactive portions taken out, and many scientists and legal experts are unsure how to draw a line differentiating the two. How this shakes out in practice remains to be seen.
Because of the confusion surrounding cDNA it is very likely that we have not seen the last of this issue in the courts.