Gene Patent Decision Emancipates Personalized Medicine

Earlier this week, in response to a case we at PUBPAT brought along with the ACLU last year, a New York Federal Court invalidated patents on two genes associated with breast and ovarian cancer. The ruling breaks Myriad Genetics' monopoly over testing of genes that increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, which is a monumental achievement in its own right, but will also have even farther-reaching benefits for all of society.

Right now, 20 percent of all human genes are patented -- including those associated with Alzheimer's disease, muscular dystrophy, colon cancer, asthma, and a host of other illnesses. While only specifically dealing with 7 patents on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, Monday's decision means that none of the thousands of other human gene patents that have been wrongly issued by the Patent Office can be used to constrain medical research into the genetic causes of those other diseases or limit the ability of patients to known what genes they have inside their body.

One of the first reporters to acknowledge the significance of the ruling was Matthew Herper of Forbes in his article, "How Gene Patents Harm Innovation." As he correctly points out, our victory this week will enable a transformative change in medicine to the benefit of patients, society and, yes, even industry.

In the not too distant future, when you go to the doctor, she will screen your entire DNA to determine which medicines would work best for you and which would be harmful. This will become as common as taking your temperature and running other blood work. The now realizable prospect of leaving behind the one-size-fits-all world of medical treatment for custom-tailored diagnosis and treatment should make all Americans breath a deep sigh of relief. And it would not be possible if gene patents were upheld, because then the cost of a full genetic screening would be prohibitively high due to the hold up incentives placed on patent holders, who are driven to maximize profit, not public good.

To say that the Honorable Robert Sweet of the Southern District of New York saved the lives of millions of Americans on Monday with the stroke of a pen is not a hyperbole. Without his courage to follow the law and strike down patents that otherwise would prevent you from looking inside your body and seeing your own genetic code, too many of us would be forced to spend many more years -- if not decades -- suffering through a blind and generic medical industry. Now we'll know, much sooner than we would have, who we are exactly and what will work better for us as opposed to our neighbors. Less side effects, less death, and less cost are on the way and it's not a moment too soon.