Blow for biotech firms on human genes patents

NATURAL human genes cannot be patented, the US Supreme Court ruled yesterday in a blow to medical and biotechnology firms.

The court concluded that human DNA was a product of nature, contradicting biotech firms’ arguments that isolated strains had a “markedly different structure”.

Biotechnology firms have argued that patents are necessary to recoup the billions of dollars they spend on research.

However, in a partial victory for biotech firms the court also ruled that synthetic genetic material could be patented.

The court’s ruling came in a challenge launched by medical researchers and others to seven patents owned by or licensed to Utah-based biotechnology company Myriad Genetics on two genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer.

The decision “sets a fair and level playing field for open and responsible use of genetic information,” said Dr Robert Darnell, president of the New York Genome Center, an alliance of medical centres and research universities. “At the same time, it does not preclude the opportunity for innovation.”

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