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Stanford University School of Medicine

Science-related Supreme Court cases to watch in 2017

5554026789_38db3cb3ca_bWhen I was in grad school, scientists tended to be more interested in p-values than politics. Now, as change becomes the new norm under the Trump administration, many researchers and health professionals are closely monitoring federal actions.

And for good reason. With a new Supreme Court nominee, existing rulings and policy related to health and science may be reexamined. Recently, Nature outlined some of the science-related Supreme Court cases to watch in 2017:

  • Biological drugs: In two patent cases, the justices will examine biosimilars (a generic drug designed to mimic an original biological drug). In these cases, the Supreme Court will decide whether the manufacturing processes for biosimilars are trade secrets. These rulings could significantly affect the biologics market.
  • Patents for genes: In 2012 and 2013, the Supreme Court ruled on two separate cases that denied patents for naturally occurring processes (such as a kit that measures chemicals in the blood). These decisions implied, but didn't explicitly state, that a broader suite of products could not be patented. This year, the Supreme Court may take a case that clarifies if and when a patent can be awarded for a naturally occurring process.
  • Water-pollution limits: There are two important aspects of water pollution law that the Supreme Court may rule on this year. The first issue pertains to developers challenging federal water-pollution regulations and will clarify which lower court should hear these lawsuits first. The second asks whether the Clean Water Act applies to small tributaries and watersheds, which contain more than half of the nation's water. The court’s ruling on these issues could affect nine pending lawsuits, the article states, including a case filed by Scott Pruitt, the current nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, which enforces the Clean Water Act.

There could be other science-related cases as well, making it an interesting year to follow the Supreme Court.

Previously: Stanford law expert weighs in on Supreme Court’s abortion rulingSupreme Court upholds Affordable Care Act with a 6-3 vote and Examining how the Supreme Court ruling on gene patenting affects medical and scientific research
Photo by Phil Roeder

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