Australian court supports patents on human genes

Thu Feb 14, 2013 11:40pm EST
 
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By James Grubel

CANBERRA (Reuters) - An Australian court ruled on Friday that two technology companies could hold a patent on genetic material related to cancer, in a case similar to one before the U.S. Supreme Court that has implications for gene-based medicine worldwide.

Cancer support groups said the finding could stifle new breast cancer research and treatment. Australia's Federal Court ruled that U.S. company Myriad Genetics Inc and Melbourne-based Genetic Technologies Ltd had the right to hold a patent on human genetic material.

The material is known as BRCA1, a mutation associated with higher risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider the same issue, which could affect millions of people worldwide, later this year.

In Australia, trial judge John Nicholas found the material could be subject to a patent because it could not exist naturally on its own inside or outside the human body.

He found those who develop a way of isolating it should have the right to a patent and to reap the financial rewards.

"It would lead to very odd results if a person whose skill and effort culminated in the isolation of a micro-organism ... could not be independently rewarded by the grant of a patent," Nicholas said.

The finding disappointed cancer support groups, consumer organization Cancer Voices, and Brisbane woman Yvonne D'Arcy, who challenged the patents in the Federal Court.   Continued...