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Divided appeals court rules human genes are patentable, protecting biotech profit instead of patient health

Posted Aug. 1, 2011 / Posted by: Nick Berning

For Immediate Release

Contact: Kelly Trout, 202-222-0722, ktrout@foe.org; Nick Berning, 202-222-0748, nberning@foe.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled late Friday that two human genes correlated with increased risk for breast cancer are patentable.

Reversing a decision from a lower court, the Court of Appeals held in Association for Molecular Pathology, et al. v. US Patent and Trademark Office.  that isolated, naturally occurring genes and DNA sequences are patentable, siding with the company Myriad Genetics that owns these patents on the BRCA1//2 genes. The court did support the lower court’s decision that patents on comparisons of two DNA sequences are invalid.

Friends of the Earth’s biotechnology policy campaigner, Eric Hoffman, responded:

“The Court held that corporations and private interests can patent human genes. We agree with the dissenting opinion, which held that genes, whether found in the body or isolated, are facts of nature and are therefore not patentable. Just as you cannot patent gold simply by removing it from a mine, Myriad’s  isolation of a gene from the human body does not make it an invention.

“Despite the fact that genetic material has evolved over millennia, 20 percent of the human genome is already patented as are thousands of plant, animal, bacteria and viral DNA sequences.  As we’ve seen with Myriad’s gene patents, private ownership of genetic material limits patients’ access to life-saving tests, prevents patients from receiving second opinions and prevents researchers from developing more effective and affordable tests. It is disappointing to see the Court side with the biotechnology industry and its shareholders, instead of the health and wellbeing of patients.”

Friends of the Earth has filed an amicus brief in the case.

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Friends of the Earth fights to defend the environment and create a more healthy and just world. Our campaigns focus on promoting clean energy and solutions to climate change, keeping toxic and risky technologies out of the food we eat and products we use, and protecting marine ecosystems and the people who live and work near them.

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