Supreme Court questions validity of Myriad's gene patents

Early indications are that the U.S. Supreme Court may jeopardize the future of Myriad Genetics' ($MYGN) patents regarding two cancer-related genes, at least in their current form.

USA Today reports that a majority of the justices argued Myriad's isolation of the BRCA1 and BRCA 2 genes linked to hereditary breast and ovarian cancers is more about nature and not inventing something novel. Justice Sonia Sotomayor is reported as referring to one of the genes Myriad isolated as having no value in by itself, "just nature sitting there"--similar to a cookie ingredient that stands alone until mixed into batter. Justice Samuel Alito was more supportive of Myriad's case, the newspaper noted, pointing out that isolated genes function differently from those on their own in nature. (Justice Antonin Scalia appeared to agree.)

At the same time, The New York Times, USA Today, Reuters and others report that the justices seem to indicate the need to formulate some sort of compromise. Reuters said they appeared wary about issuing a broad ruling on human gene patents. But both news agencies noted they seemed receptive to an Obama Administration suggestion pointing to a narrower decision that would distinguish between natural genes and man-made genetic material.

Judges took up the closely watched case on Monday, and their decision will affect the future of Myriad, its competitors and academic researchers. Last summer, Myriad won a U.S. Court of Appeals victory affirming its patents for the company's isolation of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes in the context of their connection to hereditary breast and ovarian cancers. Myriad's BRACAnalysis diagnostic test to determine a woman's risk of developing breast cancer relies on those patents and has sold stunningly since its release. The test generates the bulk of Myriad's revenue.

Reuters reports that Myriad's disputed patents are set to expire by 2015 and a Supreme Court ruling is due the same year.

- read the NYT story (sub. req)
- here's USA Today's take
- check out Reuters' coverage

Related Articles:
All eyes on Supreme Court as it weighs Myriad's gene patents
SCOTUS to take up Myriad gene patent case
Gene patent ruling seen as win for Myriad, biotech industry