The US Supreme Court case concerning Myriad Genetics' patent claims on BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 is an important battle in a fight for freedom — genomic freedom — and those claims just represent "the tip of the iceberg," Chris Mason argues in the Huffington Post.
Mason, an assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medical College, says that there are more than 40,000 other patents on genes similar to the BRCA patents, and that these can "prevent you, or your doctor, from looking at your own DNA." This stakes in this case are not abstract or academic, he writes, saying that "patients can literally die while waiting for their genetic testing results."
The problem goes beyond BRCA, he adds. Leukemia patients in blast crisis require rapid responses, patients have to wait three to seven days for a test on the patented FLT3 gene to determine which course of treatment they should have. "There is no medical reason to delay genetic testing and put patients at risk; only legal," Mason says.
Mason provides a sketch of the specifics of the AMP v. Myriad Genetics case that was argued last month before the high court, and of possible cues he gathered from the proceedings that suggest which way the justices may be leaning.
Based on his reading, Mason sees a number of justices who appear to be in favor of rejecting gene patents, including Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, Anthony Kennedy, and Sonia Sotomayor.
"I always thought that to have a patent you had to take something and add to what nature does. So how do you add to nature when all you are doing is copying its sequence?" Justice Sotomayor said.
He also suggests that Chief Justice Roberts hinted that he sees isolated DNA not as an invention. "You don't have to invent the particular segment of the [gene] — of the strand; you just have to cut it off," Roberts said.