(CN) - The Supreme Court decided to hear an appeal from medical professionals and cancer patients who want to stop Myriad Genetics Inc. from patenting human genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer.
The plaintiffs in Association for Molecular Pathology et al v. Myriad Genetics Inc et al
(No. 12-398) want to use the genetic mutations in question to determine whether patients have an increased risk for certain types of cancer.
The group, which includes patients, medical groups, geneticists, and various organizations, argue that letting the genes be patented would prevent these screenings from happening. They are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.
In their petition to the Supreme Court, the plaintiffs said the patents "have allowed it to dictate the cost of genetic testing, stopped other laboratories from creating and offering new and improved testing procedures, and made it impossible to obtain second opinions that could better inform patients of their cancer risk."
Attorneys for Salt Lake City-based Myriad Genetics, meanwhile, argue the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has allowed patents on DNA molecules for 30 years , and that without patents on the mutations, the biotechnology firms that develop them would be prevented from making the necessary profits from their work to fund future research.
Myriad's patents on two genes allow the company to be the exclusive U.S. commercial provider of genetic screenings for the diseases.
The plaintiffs prevailed in a District Court trial in 2010, but a federal appeals court has twice sided with the company.
In August, a divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., upheld the biotechnology company's right to patent "isolated" genes that account for most inherited forms of the two cancers.
In making that ruling, the Circuit majority said isolated human genes are eligible for patent protection because the process of extracting and isolating a gene from the human body makes the gene chemically distinct from naturally occurring DNA.