SCOTUS Ruling Reaffirms Indiana Companies’ Gene Patents

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that naturally occurring, isolated genes cannot be patented, but those that have been altered can be protected.

DNA Double Helix

Photo: U.S. Department of Energy

The Supreme Court's ruling means naturally occurring genes found in DNA cannot be patented.

Indiana-based biosciences companies say the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on gene patents protects the research they are currently conducting.

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday, Myriad Genetic’s patent on the BRCA Gene is unconstitutional. The naturally occurring DNA, which was isolated by the company, has been found to be an indicator of breast and ovarian cancer.

The court’s decision means that any genes that have not been manipulated from their natural state cannot be patented.

But the Supreme Court also reaffirmed companies can patent genes that are altered from their natural state.

IU Center of Intellectual Property Research Director Mark Janis says the decision’s implications should not keep Indiana biosciences companies from doing their research.

“It sounds like it’s a case about patenting human genes – turns out to be not quite such a case of such magnificent proportions,” Janis says. “It’s really a narrower matter about a particular kind of biotech drafting strategy is the way I see it.”

But some say the court’s ruling could actually help the state’s life sciences industry.

Research-based healthcare company Roche Diagnostics uses biotechnology to manipulate genes and determine how they can be used in medical treatments. The company’s spokesman Todd Siesky says the Supreme Court’s affirmation of those gene patents is key to protecting the company’s research.

“We believe that patents are a fundamental foundation of biotechnology industry and are necessary to justify the investment, risk-taking and innovation that bring these new medicines to market,” Seisky says. “However, at Genentech Roche, the patent protection that we have for our medicines and diagnostics largely consistent of other patents, not patents on naturally occurring DNA.”

In other words, Roche can continue to pour resources into creating its medical technologies without fear they will lose the rights to those technologies after they’re developed.

Medical giant Eli Lilly does not anticipate that any of their marketed or potential medicines, all of which have been engineered in some way, will be affected.

“The court’s decision clearly allows our work innovating new medicines for difficult-to-treat diseases to continue,” a statement from Eli Lilly reads.

A.J. Brammer contributed to this report.

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