Australian court rules human genes cannot be patented

Sydney: An Australian court on Wednesday ruled the breast cancer gene BRCA-1 cannot be patented following an appeal by a patient against a US-based biotechnology company.

Queensland resident Yvonne D’Arcy — a two-time cancer survivor — took her fight against US-based biotech company Myriad Genetics to Australia high court, arguing allowing corporations to own patents over human genes stifles cancer research and development of treatments for genetic diseases, Xinhua news agency reported.

Myriad Genetics has a patent over the gene known as BRCA-1, which is linked to an increased risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancers.

D’Arcy’s lawyers had argued that genetic material is a product of nature, even if isolated from the body, it can cannot be patented under Australian law.

D’Arcy’s case also argued the patent allows Myriad Genetics to charge exorbitant rates for patients who wish to be tested for the BRCA-1 mutation.

In 2013, the US supreme court ruled genes, more specifically DNA, was a product of nature and therefore not a patentable invention.

However, synthetic DNA created in a laboratory setting is eligible, the US supreme court ruled.

Myraid Genetics said the US ruling supported the Australian patent, as the material in use was isolated from the gene, creating a “non-naturally occurring molecule” which met Australia’s “manufacture test”.

The manufacture test is a product of a 1959 court ruling in favour of a weed killer that did not harm crops, but was made from already known compounds.

Australia’s high court, however, disagreed with Myriad Genetics assertions.