Recent US Supreme Court Ban On Naturally Occuring DNA May Help Biotech Startups

By: Talha Bhatti  |   June 17th, 2013   |   Business, Health, News

Last week the United States Supreme Court made a ruling that will not allow human DNA to be patented. The case stopped two patents held by a Utah firm that were connected to ovarian and breast cancer. The court order stated that while naturally occurring genes could not be claimed as intellectual property, artificially copied DNA could be patented. Justice Clarence Thomas, said in his written statement that, “We hold that a naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated.” He went on to add that, “Genes and the information they encode are not patent eligible… simply because they have been isolated from the surrounding genetic material.”


Salt Lake city based Myriad, the company centrally involved in the case, has seen its stock price rise after the decision. The company claimed that it had isolated the genes and this has caused them to change drastically from their naturally occurring form. However the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) did not agree and initially filed a suit in 2009. A New York federal court ruled in favor of the ACLU in 2010 and the recent Supreme Court decision has mostly upheld that decision.


Some see the decision as a compromise because it still allows the patent of artificially copied genes. The US biotechnology industry had previously claimed that a complete ban of any sort would have adverse effects. They feared the loss of large sums of money invested by firms in research and development.



According to TechCrunch the ruling will drive down the cost of testing and help average patients. They state that, “Myriad Genetics had acquired patents on BRCA1 and BRCA2, two genes that are strongly correlated with breast and ovarian cancer. Because of their patents, the cost of testing for those genes had been pushed higher, sometimes beyond the $3,000 range. That would have made it too expensive for many middle- and low-income women to learn if they were at risk for the cancers.”

“At the same time, other human genes were being scooped up with somewhere north of 20 percent of all human genes being covered by patents, according to the National Society of Genetic Counselors. The leading gene patent holders are unsurprisingly pharmaceutical giants like DuPont and GlaxoSmithKline, that startups would have a financially hard time competing against in courts.”


TechCrunch goes on to tell the market to, “expect gene testing companies to benefit broadly with lower-cost products across the board. The costs for full human genome sequencing have already fallen to about $8,000 today from $100 million in 2011.”

Source: BBC, TechCrunch

Image: Forbes

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *