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Takeaways from last week's gene patenting decision

Maybe, like me, you read everything you could get your eyes on last week about the gene patenting case, and spent several days pondering the implications of the ruling by the Supreme Court that companies like Myriad Genetics can't patent isolated human genes. Or, maybe you're a busy person with not much time to dive deeply into the issue. If so, you might find today's summary by the National Geographic - 7 Takeaways from Supreme Court's Gene Patent Decision - a useful primer.

The article quotes Jake Sherkow, JD, and Hank Greely, JD, from the Stanford Center for the Law and Biosciences, who each provided comment on the case for us and other members of the media last week. I found point 2 - "Synthetic DNA is fair game" - to be particularly interesting, since it's one of the first discussions of what the ruling allows, rather than prohibits:

While companies can no longer patent genes with the same sequences found in cells, the decision allows edited forms of genes not found in nature—known as complementary DNA, or cDNA—to be patented.

cDNA is not useful for diagnostic tests, but it is crucial for producing protein-based drugs, explained Robert Cook-Deegan, a professor of genome ethics, law, and policy at Duke University's Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy.

"Those are the billion-dollar molecule patents," Cook-Deegan said. "Biotech companies care a great deal about cDNA patents, and it should be reassuring to them that those patents are still fine."

Hank Greely, a bioethicist and law professor at Stanford University, predicts cDNA patents will become even more valuable as scientists move beyond merely exploiting naturally occurring proteins.

"In the longer run, as we move into an era of synthetic biology, where we start trying to improve upon nature, then I think [cDNA patents] will be important," Greely said.

Previously: A closer look at Supreme Court's decision on gene patenting, Supreme Court rules on Myriad's "gene patenting" case and Are genes patentable? A summary of the Supreme Court case

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