It Ain't 'Brave New World' Yet: Federal Court Strikes Down Human Gene Patents

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The Center for Genetics and Society, a Berkeley-based nonprofit that watchdogs bioethics issues nationwide, is trumpeting a ruling from a New York-based federal court that squashed a biotech company's efforts to patent human genes ... YOURS!

Just kidding. Well, sort of -- central to the arguments of groups arrayed against Myriad Genetics was the idea that the human genome is a shared inheritance to which no private corporation should be allowed to stake a claim. The Center for Genetics and Society filed an amicus brief in the case supporting the American Civil Liberties Union and Public Patent Foundation, which brought a lawsuit against Myriad last year.

The company had sought exclusive authority over two genes linked to an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer, and control over tests to detect them. But in a summary judgment handed down this week, the federal court in the Southern district of New York ruled that genes, as a product of nature, cannot be patented.

"The genome is our heritage. It's 99-percent similar among humans," Jesse Reynolds of the center told SF Weekly. "It's astounding that researchers and private corporations can claim part of this private heritage."

Reynolds said the decision is also a victory for advocates of caution in areas of scientific research, such as human cloning, that pose tough questions of bioethics. "Any tinkering [with the genome] is a collective decision to be made in a broad, inclusive, transparent manner," Reynolds said.

Myriad is appealing the decision.

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