June 13th 2013 should go into history as one of those rare days when common sense and the interests of the people rather than those of corporations actually prevailed.

The US supreme court ruled that human genes are natural and cannot be patented, a decision acclaimed by scientists and human rights campaigners.

Myriad Genetics Inc had obtained patents for breast and ovarian cancer genes, but this was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union, Women’s Rights Project, losing to the corporation in two occasions in lower courts, but obtaining an unanimous ruling at the Supreme Court. However, in a kind of Solomonic turn of events, the court also stated that
synthetic genetic material, even an identical copy of the natural gene, if built from chemical components, could be patented, creating in this way avenues for the biotech industry to ensure profitability. It is not clear yet whether the virtual monopoly held by this and other companies on gene testing will be affected, and in which way, by this ruling.

‘According to researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College in the US, patents now cover some 40% of the human genome.’ (BBC Report http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-22895161)

The European Union and US patents

‘Between 2001 and 2003, the EPO has granted several patents to Myriad Genetics on familial breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2. These patents have permitted the US firm to gain and retain monopoly on BRCA1 and BRCA2 testing. Although Myriad has exclusive rights to commercialise tests based on BRCA1 and BRCA2 in the United States, European clinics have been opposed to signing up for licenses. The European genetics community has adamantly resisted Myriad’s monopoly for breast cancer screening as they see it as an interference with national policies surrounding DNA-based diagnostic services.

Furthermore, the basis for the breakthroughs in breast cancer research that led to the initial patent claims by Myriad in 1994 and 1995, was made possible as a result of a collaborative effort on behalf of worldwide academic research groups. Geneticists and healthcare providers criticise the fact that Myriad spent minimal funds discovering diagnostic tests that, in addition to having inaccurate results, are offered at very high costs. While Myriad offers patients a test for a fee of about €3,800, similar tests are offered by German universities at a cost of around €1,800.’ (European Hospital http://www.european-hospital.com/en/article/315.html)