It may confuse most of us how our DNA, a product of nature that defines our identity and personal traits, could have been patented in the first place. Some claim that patent protection for years of hard work is needed to continue our efforts to isolate and identify genes in order to help develop diagnostic tests and therapies for the good of the general public. [Nature: Myriad ruling causes confusion
Myriad, the gene diagnostic company that has been in the cross hairs of the recent Supreme Court to invalidate key portions of their patent on the breast and ovarian susceptibility genes BRCA1 and 2, should be credited for their diligent work. They have helped thousands of patients know their cancer risk and act accordingly, and have allowed the medical community to better understand which mutations are actually harmful – something that requires access to large amounts of pooled information.
However, the prices commanded for testing no longer reflect the state of the art of gene sequencing that has dropped precipitously with newer "next generation" sequencing technology. [CURE: Can a Human Gene Be Patented?
] Furthermore, the discovery of the BRCA genes were not made in isolation but rather grew out of earlier work to pinpoint the general location of these genes dating back nearly two decades earlier.
Nimble and efficient gene diagnostic companies are popping up like Internet start-up companies of the 1990s. Their day has now arrived as they find new freedom to operate.
The Supreme Court's decision is not fully sweeping and its effects will not be seen overnight [New York Times: Justices, 9-0, Bar Patenting Human Genes
]. Larger companies like Myriad still retain significant intellectual property and will probably switch over to offering more complex gene panels tests and tissue assays that go beyond the effect of single gene mutation, but rather the biological impact on tissues. This too, will move the field forward. But will competition in the free market lower prices of testing at the cost of reciprocal stifling of investment and innovation? Only time will tell, but history seems to be on the side of healthy completion equaling continual improvements in both quality and value in most other areas.
We hope the same will pertain to the matter of our genes