As of this morning, at least 20% of your genes were patented by someone other than you. The holders of the patents could quite literally forbid you to investigate large portions of your own personal genome. This afternoon, a federal judge in New York handed down a broad ruling that calls into question – thankfully – the entire idea that naturally occurring genes are patentable.
The ruling in question most directly affects the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which have been implicated in hereditary breast cancer. Myriad Genetics patented those two genes, and has been jealously guarding those patents. This has restricted research into those genes, and has prevented the development of any alternative methods for tests involving those genes. The ACLU filed suit challenging the patents last year, and the ruling in question came in response to their request for summary judgement.
I’m still reading through the 156-page ruling, which can be downloaded from the ACLU’s website (pdf), but I think I may have already found one of the quotes that – if the ruling survives the appeals process – is likely to have extremely wide-ranging effects on genetic research in the future:
Because the claimed isolated DNA is not markedly different from native DNA as it exists in nature, it constitutes unpatentable subject matter under 35 U.S.C. 101.
Myriad is sure to appeal the ruling, so the case is most likely far from over. But it at least gives cause for hope that research into human genetics will not be restricted by firms that claim patents on part of our very physical makeup.