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.
Myriad, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, will ask the court to uphold the patents, which it says is vital compensation for developing a potentially life-saving test to asses the risks of breast and ovarian cancer and to advance medicine. Myriad’s BRACAnalysis test looks for mutations on the breast cancer predisposition gene, or BRCA.