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Professor Robert Field Explores Gene Patenting Case Headed to Supreme Court

March 28, 2013

The Supreme Court’s eventual ruling on the patenting of human genes will have far reaching consequences for the future of health care delivery, Professor Robert Field said during a discussion on March 27.

While the court’s rulings on the Affordable Care Act drew lots of attention, a case involving a biotech company that holds the patent to two human genes “has the potential to have more impact,” Field said.

“There are reasonably high stakes involved,” Field said, noting the impact on the development of medical treatments and on the economics of health care and the pharmaceutical industry.

On April 15, the court will consider whether the biotech firm Myriad Genetics, which obtained patents for two genes associated with breast cancer and a test that determines the presence of mutations linked to the disease, can retain those rights.

“This kind of test opens the gateway to individualized medicine,” Field said.

The ruling will have major legal, policy and economic impacts that affect research scientists and the investors who finance their work, Field said, adding that it will inevitably have major effects on health care delivery and patients.

The discussion was sponsored by the Intellectual Property Law Society.