University of California San Francisco

UCSF Community Reacts to Supreme Court Ruling that Human Genes Can't Be Patented

UCSF Geneticist Led Charge to Challenge Company’s Monopoly of Cancer Genetic Test

By Lisa Cisneros    |   UCSF.edu | June 13, 2013

UCSF Community Reacts to Supreme Court Ruling that Human Genes Can't Be Patented

Robert Nussbaum, MD. Photo by Cindy Chew

The scientific community at UC San Francisco is reacting positively to the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling on Thursday that human genes cannot be patented.
 
Most agree that the ruling reduces barriers to genetic testing and enables scientists to further genetic research and share data aimed ultimately at preventing and curing disease.
 
"This is great news for patient care," says Beth Crawford, MS, a genetic counselor and director of genetic counseling for the Cancer Risk Program at the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. "It will provide patients with greater access to genetic testing and will decrease the cost over time for the tests. Across the board, genetic medicine will move forward to advance scientific and clinical research."
 
Adds Julie Mak, MS, also a genetic counselor for the Cancer Risk Program, "Our community is enormously excited to learn that the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled against the patenting of human genes. We agree that this is appropriate, as genes are naturally occurring and not the creation of any individual or company."
 
Until now, if a woman in the United States wanted to get tested to see whether she carried a potentially deadly mutation for two breast cancer genes – BRCA1 and BRCA2 – she had to go through a company that had found the precise location of the genes and patented its discovery.
 
The company, Utah-based Myriad Genetics, Inc., was sued over its claim of patents relating to BRCA1 and BRCA2, whose mutations are linked to increased hereditary risk for breast and ovarian cancer.
 
Myriad Genetics angered many in the genetic research community by guarding tightly the results of the thousands of tests that have been performed since Myriad launched the BRACAnalysis test in 1996, and with those, critical data on which mutations are significant for people of diverse backgrounds. Those critics include UCSF geneticist Robert Nussbaum, MD, who argued that the genetic information should be in the public domain to help advance scientific discovery.  
 
Nussbaum, chief of the Division of Genomic Medicine at UCSF, started a grass-roots project, Sharing Clinical Reports, to make the vast amount of data gleaned from Myriad available to the research community.
 
"My real focus is on delivering medical care," Nussbaum, who was in clinic Thursday and unavailable to comment, told KQED’s "On the Media" in an interview last month. "Suppose every radiology department in the country took X-rays, interpreted their results and kept it private to themselves. … How much progress would have been made in interpreting CAT scans or MRI scans under that circumstance? I see that as very analogous."
 
The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that "naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated," Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the majority opinion.
 

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