Myriad Genetics, a small Salt Lake City company, is finding itself at the center of some pretty large questions over whether its can hold patents on two human genes related to breast and ovarian cancer.
The Salt Lake Tribune has reported on the issues involved and the stakes perceived by both sides. The lawsuit by 20 researchers, organizations and cancer victims "is nominally directed to Myriad, but actually imperils the entire biotechnology industry--molecular diagnostics, therapeutic drugs, agricultural applications, animal husbandry, etc.," Myriad told a Washington, D.C., court last week.
Myriad is appealing a March decision by a New York judge that seven Myriad patents related to the genes are invalid because they are products of nature and so not eligible for protection under U.S. patent laws, the Tribune reports. Some researchers and professional organizations, along with several cancer victims, say the patents have the potential to limit research and the number of tests and treatments available for women at risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
The patents are for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes (BRCA for breast cancer), obtained by Myriad, which went on to develop diagnostic tests that identify mutations that make women more susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer.
Myriad argues that it has never stifled research. "In Myriad's case we have never prohibited or told anyone not to do research," Richard Marsh, executive vice president and corporate counsel for Myriad, said in an interview with the Tribune. "Of all the listed plaintiffs, Myriad has never taken an adversarial position against them vis-á-vis our patents."