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Gene Patents Get Supreme Decision

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Last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision on Myriad's breast cancer gene patents sparked many comments from patients, the public and scientists. Here's what several Johns Hopkins experts had to say about the topic:

"I am thrilled with the Supreme Court's unanimous decision to overturn gene patents.  This was the only choice and will open up opportunities for patients, health care providers and the research community." 

Ada Hamosh, MD, MPH
Dr. Frank V. Sutland Professor
McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine
Johns Hopkins University

"After all this time, it is gratifying that the US Supreme Court has ruled 9-0 that gene patents are invalid because they are products of nature. At the same time, the Court has taken a middle ground by ruling that patents on complementary DNA or cDNA are still valid. I would respectfully disagree with the latter ruling because complementary DNAs makes up about 1% of our genome as processed pseudogenes, and are also natural products. However, the decision is a real victory for the public because it opens up competition in gene testing for inherited disease. This should lower the price of testing for BRCA1 and BRCA 2 and allow for second opinions on test results. Since the ruling does not affect the patenting of process or use of genes, the biotech industry will still be able to patent their innovations arising from the knowledge of gene sequences and their functions."

Haig H. Kazazian, Jr.
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

"Like every controversial topic, there are pros and cons that have to be considered with the Supreme Court's decision regarding patenting of genes and specifically for the BRCA1 and 2 genes isolated and patented by Myriad Genetics. At its heart, this is a good thing for patients as it will allow for more options in the future, and indeed competition and laws preventing monopolies generally have been met with enthusiasm from consumers, businesses and politicians as it can lead to decreased costs and increased quality.  Arguments have also been made that this will "free up" the scientific process leading to more productive research for the betterment of public health. This may or may not be true, as the potential downside of the patent ruling is whether this will stifle scientific creativity and development due to fears of not being able to recoup initial investments into research as others have argued.  For now, the decision has been made, and it is likely that this will lead to increased competition for Myriad Genetics but the true impact remains to be seen. It should also be noted that while the Supreme Court's decision clearly stated that naturally occurring genes cannot be patented, synthetic DNA often created in the lab from mRNA (and a surrogate measure of the protein coding sequences of a gene) can in fact still be patented because they are not naturally occurring.  This leaves some intellectual freedom and space on how entities could still lay claims to gene products that are produced in the lab."

Ben Ho Park, M.D., Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Oncology, Breast Cancer Program
Associate Director, Hematology/Oncology Fellowship Training Program
The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins

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