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Prometheus Struck Down by the Gods …

The US Supreme Court has overturned two methods patents on drug dose calibration held by biotech company Prometheus Laboratories, reports The Scientist's Sabrina Richards. The company's patents concerned the calibration of synthetic thiopurines, which are used to treat auto-immune diseases like Crohn's disease, Richards says. "Prometheus's methods rely on monitoring the levels of various metabolites in red blood cells," she adds. The Mayo Clinic invented its own diagnostic tests in 2004 based on different levels of the same metabolites tested for by Prometheus, and the company sued the clinic, alleging patent infringement. In its defense, Mayo claimed that the patents relied on natural phenomena, which are unpatentable, and the case went all the way to the US Supreme Court after the Federal District Court upheld the patents.

The Supreme Court disagreed, Richards says. "To transform an unpatentable law of nature into a patent­eligible application of such a law, a patent must do more than simply state the law of nature while adding the words 'apply it,'" the Supreme Court's ruling says. "We conclude that the patent claims at issue here effectively claim the underlying laws of nature themselves. The claims are consequently invalid."

Experts say the decision may have consequences for similar patents that are also under scrutiny, most notably Myriad Genetics' patents on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.

For more on the Supreme Court's decision, go to Daily Scan's sister publication, GenomeWeb Daily News.