Los Angeles – Last year, when a federal judge ruled that human genes couldn’t be patented, scientists and geneticists were pleased. The particular case at issue involved Myriad Genetics, which holds the patent rights on two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, which are associated with a woman’s increased risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers. At the time of the court’s ruling last May, Myriad’s gene patents were deemed invalid.
But now it appears that the courts have reversed their ruling yet again. In a decision handed down on Friday, two federal judges determined that the case of gene patent validity comes down to the meaning of the word “isolated.” Judge Sweet’s ruling last year to invalidate Myriad’s patents was based on the scientific fact that genes are derivative of human nature, not an invention, and therefore could not be patented. The judge’s decision was quite controversial for patent lawyers since the United States Patent and Trademark Office had already granted patents for over 4,000 human genes.
In last week’s court reversal, it was determined that Myrriad‘s gene patents are indeed valid, thus restoring patent rights to the company. The court’s reversal revealed the fact that there was a huge lack of understanding of DNA, genes, and genomes. The court used the reasoning that “isolated DNA” is different than the natural DNA in humans, and this distinction allows it to be patented. The judges wrote in the ruling:
“Native DNA exists in the body as one of forty-six large, contiguous DNA molecules…Isolated DNA, in contrast, is a free-standing portion of a native DNA molecule, frequently a single gene…Accordingly, BRCA1 and BRCA2 in their isolated state are not the same molecules as DNA as it exists in the body.”
Scientists, disgruntled over the reversal, claim that genes are “isolated” by our body’s own genetics when they are copied into RNA and then converted into proteins. What continues to trouble scientists is that they claim gene patents slow down the progress of science and genetics as legalities arise for anyone who wants to work with any of those genes.