US Supreme Court to decide if companies can patent Human Genes

Karen McVeigh | The Guardian | April 11, 2013

The US supreme court will hear oral arguments next week to decide whether companies can patent human genes, in a landmark case which could alter the course of US medical research and the battle against diseases such as breast and ovarian cancer.

A coalition of scientists, cancer survivors, patients, breast cancer groups and professional medical associations, which has brought the case, will argue that genes are "products of nature", like organs of the body and should not be exploited for commercial gain.

Such patents are illegal and violate the first amendment, they say. They are challenging patents on two genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer owned by Myriad Genetics, a biotechnology company, because they say the patents have stymied research and the free exchange of ideas.

Nearly 20% of the human genome – more than 4,000 genes, including some linked to Alzheimer's disease and colon cancer – is already covered by at least one patent. Some are held by companies, while others are held by universities, research institutions and others committed to "open source genomics" who hold them "pre-emptively", to stop commercial companies from having them.

Oral hearing in the case are due to be heard by the justices on Monday.