A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday prohibited patents on naturally occurring human genes but allowed legal protections on synthetically produced genetic material in a compromise ruling hailed as a partial victory for patients and the biotechnology industry.
The ruling by the nine justices, the first of its kind for the top U.S. court, buttressed important patent protections relied upon by biotechnology companies while making it clear that genes extracted from the human body cannot be patented.
Researchers and advocates for patients said it could make it easier for people to get cheaper genetic tests for disease risk.
The court’s ruling came in a challenge launched by medical researchers and others to seven patents owned by or licensed to Salt Lake City, Utah-based biotechnology company Myriad Genetics Inc on two genes linked to certain types of cancer.
The decision “sets a fair and level playing field for open and responsible use of genetic information,” said Dr. Robert Darnell, president and scientific director of the New York Genome Center, an alliance of medical centers and research universities. “At the same time, it does not preclude the opportunity for innovation in the genetic world.”