Updated on 17 June 2013
To this Myriad questioned the future of 100,000 or so genetic patents already awarded by the US Patent and Trademark Office since 1982. So much so, that Genome Medicine journal stated, "Your doctor cannot look at about 41 percent of the human genome without the permission of a patent holder because, in effect, those genes aren't legally yours. This has profound implications for personalized medicine, in which doctors will prescribe individualized cures that could be vastly more effective because they target a person's makeup. Many researchers, doctors and medical organizations fear that the proliferation of gene patents will limit those treatments because patent holders have locked down genes in ways that discourage research and kill competition."
In 2012, geneticist Mr S L Salzberg, in his commentary on the case in Nature, called patenting of human genes absurdity. "By this argument, a blood sample or even an amputated limb is not 'naturally occurring' and is therefore patentable. Genes are not inventions. This simple fact, which no serious scientist would dispute, should be enough to rule them out as the subject of patents," he wrote. He had also pointed out, "Given that there are well over 4,000 gene patents and 1,100 different claimants, it's extremely onerous for scientists to work on certain genes. It forces them to have to navigate through a costly and bureaucratic process of negotiating licenses and paying for these licenses. Consequently, many would rather spend their time and resources working on other genes - including less important ones. This is an indirect threat to human health."
Ahead of the Supreme Court's ruling, Myriad had issued a statement defending its patent on the company's official blog. "The diagnostic tools based on the company's patents have been used by more than one million women. Without adequate intellectual property protection, companies would face significant obstacles conducting pioneering research and bringing new products to market that save lives. We think it is right for a company to be able to own its discoveries, earn back its investment, and make a reasonable profit," Myriad officials wrote.
Human genetics researcher from Columbia University Medical Centre, Dr Wendy Chung argued through the case that allowing exclusive licenses on genes compromises the access to care and quality of care patients receive. "When genetic testing is performed by a single laboratory, the quality of the genetic testing and interpretation of results suffer and the price of the testing remains artificially elevated. Independent scientists could have studied not only whether a variant is dangerous or benign but also whether that risk is modified by the presence of other genes - crucial information when a woman is agonizing over whether to have her breasts removed," she had said.
Similarly, Dr Arupa Ganguly, Director of the University of Pennsylvania Genetic Diagnostic Laboratory, had stated that gene patents had a negative impact on scientific research. "Gene patents have allowed some companies to enforce monopolies and dictate the terms under which researchers may or may not perform their own tests on the genes they control. I and my fellow researchers are forced to constantly worry about violating patents, and as a result there are things we completely avoid. This ultimately takes its toll on the patients - the very people gene patent holders claim they are trying to help," she said in her brief to the court.