Isolated human genes may not be patented, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Thursday. The case concerned patents held by Myriad Genetics, a Utah company, on genes that correlate with increased risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.Of course. Because why would corporations have any interest in healthcare advancements unless they're profitable. If only corporations were run by self-interested human beings!
The patents were challenged by scientists and doctors who said their research and ability to help patients had been frustrated. The particular genes at issue received public attention after the actress Angelina Jolie revealed in May that she had had a preventive double mastectomy after learning that she had inherited a faulty copy of a gene that put her at high risk for breast cancer.
The price of the test, often more than $3,000, was partly a product of Myriad's patent, putting it out of reach for some women. The company filed patent infringement suits against others who conducted testing based on the gene. The price of the test "should come down significantly," said Dr. Harry Ostrer, one of the plaintiffs in the case decided Thursday. The ruling, he said, 'will have an immediate impact on people's health.'
The court's ruling will also shape the course of scientific research and medical testing in other fields, and it may alter the willingness of businesses to invest in the expensive work of isolating and understanding genetic material.
Luckily, the conservatives on the court made sure businesses are still aware of ways they can eke profit out of revolutionary advancements in healthcare that be accessed by privileged people:
"Groundbreaking, innovative or even brilliant discovery does not by itself satisfy the criteria" for patent eligibility, [Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court].Phew!
But manipulating a gene to create something not found in nature, Justice Thomas added, is an invention eligible for patent protection.
He also left the door open for other ways for companies to profit from their research.
They may patent the methods of isolating genes, he said. "But the processes used by Myriad to isolate DNA were well understood by geneticists," Justice Thomas wrote. He added that companies may also obtain patents on new applications of knowledge gained from genetic research.
Although I am being a cynical asshole (to the fainting couches!), it is genuinely good news that the court ruled against the right to patent human genes. Ha ha well I lasted one sentence, now back to cynicism: I am, however, not thrilled they explicitly left the door open for patenting manipulated genes, given that the future of healthcare may be in genetic therapies. Being able to patent cures to maximize profits will always be a problem, particularly in the US as long as healthcare continues to be treated as a privilege rather than a right.
But good job today, Supreme Court! Sort of!