Australia's Highest Court Rules Human Genes Cannot be Patented
Australia's highest court has ruled the breast cancer gene BRCA-1 cannot be patented following an appeal by an Australian patient against a U.S.-based biotechnology company.
Queensland resident Yvonne D'Arcy - a two-time cancer survivor - took her fight against U.S.-based biotech company Myriad Genetics to the High Court of Australia on Wednesday, arguing allowing corporations to own patents over human genes stifles cancer research and development of treatments for genetic diseases.
Myriad Genetics has a patent over the gene known as BRCA-1, which is linked to an increased risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancers.
D'Arcy's lawyers had argued that genetic material is a product of nature, even where isolated from the body, and is therefore cannot be patented under Australian law.
D'Arcy's case also argued the patent allows Myriad Genetics to charge exorbitant rates for patients who wish to be tested for the BRCA-1 mutation.
Myriad Genetics however believed that patents ensured innovation could be commercialized for everyone's benefit.
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled genes, more specifically DNA, was a product of nature and therefore not a patentable invention, local media reported.
However, synthetic DNA created in a laboratory setting is eligible, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled.
Myraid Genetics said the U.S. ruling supported the Australian patent, as the material in use was isolated from the gene, creating a "non-naturally occurring molecule" which met Australia' s "manufacture test."
The manufacture test is a product of a 1959 court ruling in favor of a weed killer that did not harm crops, but was made from already known compounds.
Australia's High Court, in a unanimous decision however, disagreed with Myriad Genetics assertions.
"While the invention claimed might be, in a formal sense, a product of human action, it was the existence of the information stored in the relevant sequences that was an essential element of the invention as claimed," the judges said.