Australian high court to hear cancer gene patent case

Two time breast cancer survivor appeals federal court ruling allowing private companies to patent gene mutations

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Yvonne D’Arcy, a two-time breast cancer survivor, has taken the US company Myriad Genetics to the Australian High Court over a patented gene linked with an increased risk of cancer.

On December 2013, a federal court in Australia ruled that Myriad had the right to patent the mutated gene. According to the ruling, private companies can patent mutations in human gene and prevent others researching the same gene without their consent.

D’Arcy argues that the mutation is natural, hence cannot be patented, and that a high court ruling will enable research, since “at the moment it is stymied because you can’t research.”

“We need to find out what turns these genes on, what makes them go rogue and what can turn them off,” she said.

Myriad holds the patent over the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 which are linked to an increased chance of developing breast cancer. Angeline Jolie had a double mastectomy after it turned out that she possessed the BRCA1 gene.

The genetics company claims that it holds the patent of a product - an isolated nucleic acid which is chemically, functionally, and structurally different from natural genes.

However, the US Supreme Court begs to differ and ruled that naturally occurring DNA was a natural product and can’t be patented.

“Myriad did not create anything,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his ruling.

“To be sure it found an important and useful gene, but separating that gene from its surrounding genetic material is not an act of invention.”

The Australian hearing starts on Tuesday and will last for two days.

TRTWorld and agencies