In a decision being hailed by advocacy groups as an important win for patients, the United States Supreme Court today unanimously ruled that genes may not be patented.
Patents result in limited competition and increased prices. Human genes are no exception. The case before the Supreme Court centered on BRCA1 and BRCA2, genes that play a role in some cases of breast and ovarian cancer, and which had been patented by the Utah biotech Myriad. With the genes under patent, the costs of being tested for mutations in these genes was about $3000, out of reach for many women. (The issue came into the spotlight in May, when actress Angelina Jolie revealed that she carried mutations in BRCA1 and urged women to be tested.) With gene patentability struck down, the cost of genetic testing should also come down, allowing more people to determine their genetic status, assess their personal risk and take action accordingly. Knowledge is power.
The decision is also being reported to hold important implications for the development of new treatments for disease. According to the New York Times:
The court’s ruling will also shape the course of scientific research and medical testing in other fields, and it may alter the willingness of businesses to invest in the expensive work of isolating and understanding genetic material.
What does this mean for Parkinson’s research, where two of the most important drug targets, LRRK2 and alpha-synuclein, are genetic, and are currently the field’s best hope for the development of a disease-modifying treatment? Our VP of Research Programs Brian Fiske, PhD, says: “This decision shouldn’t impede research groups from making a drug that targets a genetic mutation or using information gleaned from understanding the mutation to inform drug development.” He notes, however, that biomarker work specifically may be affected, since today’s decision could change the rules around the commercialization of genetic tests.
As always, stay tuned to FoxFeed for ongoing updates and analysis.