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Gene patent ruling seen as win for Myriad, biotech industry

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Myriad Genetics ($MYGN) notched a legal victory in the diagnostic company's long quest to protect its intellectual property on cancer tests, with a federal court's ruling that the company's claims on isolated genes that predict risk of breast and ovarian malignancies could be patented, the company said on Thursday. And the ruling appears to be a victory for biotech outfits that invest heavily in genetic research to find abnormalities in the genetic code.

The 2-1 decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that mostly favored Salt Lake City-based Myriad's patent rights comes amid a multi-year legal struggle between the diagnostic company and patient and medical advocates who say that genes are a product of nature and patenting them stifles scientific progress. Myriad has disputed those claims and used the court's ruling to bolster its case, but legal experts say that the legal battle could continue as Myriad's opponents seek new lines of attack.

The Supreme Court made the Federal Circuit reconsider Myriad's case after it ruled on a separate matter involving a diagnostics outfit, The Wall Street Journal reported. And Investor's Business Daily speculated that the case could land back at the high court, with no guarantees that the justices would rule in Myriad's favor. Some of the case hinges on whether the company's isolation of the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes provides the company with patentable assets.

"Human genes are not like new genetic tools or drugs, which can be patented because they are manufactured," Dan Ravicher, a co-counsel in the lawsuit against Myriad, said in a statement, as quoted by Pharmalot. "It is absurd to think that a company can own naturally-occurring human genes simply because they removed them from the body."

At least two federal judges largely disagreed with this argument, however, and Myriad has fortified its position. For now.

- here's the company's release
- read the WSJ's article (sub. req.)
- check out Pharmalot's report
- and the item from Investor's Business Daily

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