I know – that’s a first. The supreme court made a wise and unanimous decision on the Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics case. You can no longer patent a gene. However, the supreme court upheld Myriad Genetics’ rights to patent cDNA from BRCA1 and BRCA2 – which might explain why Myriad Genetics’ stock jumped after the ruling. Apparently, the investors had feared worse. Exactly what a patent on cDNA entails may be up to future litigation, but it should not preclude many common genotyping platforms as a diagnostic tool for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations.
What are the long term consequences of the ruling? We can probably expect private companies to invest less in basic research on the molecular genetics of disease. It might be harder to make a profit on discovering disease related mutations. On the other hand, it will be easier to develop new diagnostic tools based one existing knowledge. We might expect a shift in focus in private companies from basic research towards development of diagnostics. That is not necessarily a bad thing. But somebody else has to pick up the slack on basic research.
The mantra for funding of genomics research at the National Institute of Health (NIH) – the major funding body of genomic and medical research – has been ‘translational’. Apparently, the phase in genomic research in which we focus on basic discoveries is over. Now we need to focus on translating these discoveries into medical applications – diagnostics and treatments. That is all good – but with the expected fallout of the supreme court ruling, somebody has to continue the drive for basic research. It is time for NIH to once again step up on funding for basic research in the genomic sciences.
Addendum: Hilariously, while Scalia voted in favor of the ruling – he dissented on the basic principles of molecular biology. Apparently, it is not only global warming and evolution that is being challenged. I expect soon to see a dissent on the shape of the earth or the placement of the earth in the solar system.