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Medicine The Courts Science

Supreme Court Gene Patents Ruling Opens Genetic Test Options 22

Posted by Soulskill
from the courts-making-medicine-better dept.
vinces99 writes "The Supreme Court's unanimous decision to bar the patenting of naturally occurring genes opens up important clinical testing options for a variety of diseases, which University of Washington medical geneticists and laboratory medicine experts say will benefit patients. Mary-Claire King, a UW geneticist who was instrumental in identifying the breast cancer-causing genes at the heart of the court case, hailed the ruling as 'a victory for patients, their families, their physicians and common sense.' She noted that within 24 hours after the decision was announced on June 13, UW Laboratory Medicine was offering tests for all known breast cancer genes."
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Supreme Court Gene Patents Ruling Opens Genetic Test Options

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  • by rts008 (812749) on Friday June 21, 2013 @06:06PM (#44074417) Journal

    "... within 24 hours after the decision was announced on June 13, UW Laboratory Medicine was offering tests for all known breast cancer genes."

    A prime example of how current IP law and mentality have hindered usefulness and innovation of technology.

    Hopefully this will serve as a wake-up call to much needed IP law reform.

    • "... within 24 hours after the decision was announced on June 13, UW Laboratory Medicine was offering tests for all known breast cancer genes."

      A prime example of how current IP law and mentality have hindered usefulness and innovation of technology.

      Hopefully this will serve as a wake-up call to much needed IP law reform.

      This is nothing more than a slap in the face of Capitalism. I say let the free market decide who lives and who dies!

    • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Friday June 21, 2013 @06:33PM (#44074591)
      The fact that the supreme court said genomic DNA was not patentable but cDNA was means that the issue isn't resolved, but momentum is on the side of sanity. Had the supreme court said "No, neither are patentable because you didn't fucking make those sequences, and cDNA is just genomic DNA with parts taken out," then the issue would have been resolved, which would have been good, but we couldn't say "See, IP laws are holding back cancer research and are STILL not fixed."

      Perhaps the SC's incompetence to realize that reverse transcriptase is a naturally occouring enzyme, and viruses make cDNA all the time, and your cells remove introns all the time, so there is absofuckinglutely nothing patentable about cDNA... perhaps that will actually be useful in the larger battle.
      • by the gnat (153162) on Friday June 21, 2013 @07:52PM (#44075205)

        reverse transcriptase is a naturally occouring enzyme, and viruses make cDNA all the time, and your cells remove introns all the time, so there is absofuckinglutely nothing patentable about cDNA

        But the cDNAs that people would like to patent is not simply endogenously present - it has to be created using an entirely artificial process. And reverse transcriptase isn't a naturally occurring enzyme in humans, or at least not the kind that's used to make cDNA*. And our cells remove introns only to make mRNA, not cDNA. So it's a little deceptive to say that cDNA is a natural product and therefore not patentable. If your rather simplistic argument were valid, a vast number of forms of gene manipulation and genetic engineering would become unpatentable, because organisms undergo gene manipulation all the time. (The most extreme example is probably horizontal gene transfer, but there are plenty of other weird things going on, many involving viruses.)

        Now, my personal preference (as both a scientist and a consumer) is for as few patents as possible on any genetic material, and I was relieved to see Myriad get slapped down by all nine justices. But what I prefer isn't always in line with what current case law decrees is allowable, and I wouldn't call the Supreme Court incompetent just because they didn't reach the conclusion I personally favor.

        (* In fact, the polymerases used in molecular biology labs are often heavily engineered for greater stability and control, and of course they're not endogenously produced but rather purified from a [heavily modified] recombinant organism expressing the protein on a [human-designed] plasmid, so the connection to the naturally occurring proteins is tenuous.)

        • I'm not enough of a virologist to say "Retroviruses accidentally reverse transcribe human mRNAs often when we get a retroviral infection," but I'm willing to bet money they do.

          Either way, the sequences of cDNA are fundamentally natural. All of the cDNA sequence is found in the genomic sequence. I can't retype a popular book on a typewriter, exclude a boring chapter or two, and claim it's novel and claim exclusive rights to it based on the fact that no one had previously typed it out on a typewriter. T
          • by the gnat (153162)

            I'm not enough of a virologist to say "Retroviruses accidentally reverse transcribe human mRNAs often when we get a retroviral infection," but I'm willing to bet money they do.

            It's quite possible, but largely irrelevant - you would first have to prove that a specific cDNA under question did actually occur naturally. And in any case, a controlled process that produces large amounts of a cDNA is very different from a freak accident like this. Technically speaking, it's also possible that many patented synth

        • by skywire (469351) *

          Yours is the simplistic argument. Yes, the cDNA is 'created' using an artificial process, like copying a book with a photocopier. Copying a book doesn't make you the author, and copying the naturally occurring gene embodied in mRNA into the cDNA form doesn't make you its inventor. Or its discoverer, for that matter, despite the fact that in this case, Myriad was the discoverer of the gene. That discovery was not the rationale offered by the court for their second holding. Their shaky rationale was that Myri

          • by the gnat (153162)

            Yes, the cDNA is 'created' using an artificial process, like copying a book with a photocopier.

            Maybe, if it's a photocopier that also translates the book into another language. And in that case, even if the book was public domain, the translation would not be. (Although it would be covered under copyright, not patent, but for something like DNA the distinction is difficult to make.)

            Again, I am playing devil's advocate here - I was merely trying to disabuse the parent poster of the notion that any method o

          • by the gnat (153162)

            Just to add to my previous arguments: in my opinion, the reason cDNA shouldn't be patentable is that it doesn't even come close to the threshold of "non-obvious". Especially in an era where whole cell mRNA extracts can be sequenced in bulk and gene synthesis is getting cheaper all the time, giving these patent protection is just a terrible idea, but I would argue that most such patents shouldn't even have passed the test when they were first issued. To anyone skilled in the art, making a cDNA is a bloody

        • by pepty (1976012)

          Actually the cDNAs are naturally occurring to some extent as pseudogenes. Three minutes on Google found me one for exons 5 and 6 of BRCA1 spliced together without the intron

          So the situation right now is that a cDNA sequence is patentable to the extent it contains splice sites that don't occur naturally. If a sequence derived from a cDNA doesn't overlap one of the splice sites (most short probes do not) it's not patentable. If it overlaps one or more splice sites it may be patentable ... but it may not.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What do they mean by naturally occurring? Aren't all configurations of genetics potentially naturally occurring?

  • 23&Me's tests say they're not for diagnostic use, but as far as I can tell from most of the articles on the topic, they have a bit more detail on breast cancer related genes than Myriad's, as well as telling you about a lot more disease traits, general physical traits, ancestry data, percentage of Neanderthal DNA, etc. For a couple of the scarier traits (I think it was breast cancer and Huntington's), they do ask you to confirm that you really do want to see them. Many of the genes they're testing fo

    • by pepty (1976012)

      23&Me's tests say they're not for diagnostic use, but as far as I can tell from most of the articles on the topic, they have a bit more detail on breast cancer related genes than Myriad's,

      For BRCA1 and 2 the real value add right now for Myriad's test is that they have spent the last fifteen years collecting variants and correlating them with cancer occurrence. No one else has that data right now. ClinVar (a public database) has about 1000 of the most common variants, but that's estimated to be about only 1% of Myriad's.

  • Mary-Claire King, a UW geneticist who was instrumental in identifying the breast cancer-causing genes at the heart of the court case, hailed the ruling...

    ... she doesn't seem to be listed on any of the patents that were at issue. She did work in the same field and is listed on other patents, but she doesn't appear to have any relationship to the patents involved in the court case.

    Factually incorrect is par for the course for Slashdot, though.

    • by the gnat (153162)

      She did work in the same field and is listed on other patents, but she doesn't appear to have any relationship to the patents involved in the court case.

      From Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]: "While on the faculty at Berkeley, King demonstrated in 1990 that a single gene on chromosome 17, later known as BRCA1, was responsible for many breast and ovarian cancers—as many as 5-10% of all cases of breast cancer may be hereditary."

      The patent is on uses of the sequence, which was what the now-overturned patent covers. Back in th

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