Australia's High Court revoked a patent on BRCA1, commonly called the breast cancer gene, in a unanimous decision delivered earlier this week. Two-time breast cancer cancer and cervical cancer survivor Yvonne D'Arcy took on Myriad Genetics, the American holder of the patent on the gene. D'Arcy was represented by Australian "leading social justice firm" Maurice Blackburn.
Myriad Genetics held the patent on BRCA1, and there were concerns that the U.S. based pharmaceutical company was restricting access to potentially life saving tests. The company argued that their patent ensured that research would be commercially viable. A spokesperson said that patents make "personalized medicine a reality" by giving "research-based companies like Myriad with an incentive to continue to invest in Research and Development". Apparently the thought of saving lives without mass profit wasn't incentive enough.
The court ruled that BRCA1 is a gene that naturally occurs, and therefore is not a "patentable invention". This ruling follows a similar decision made by American courts, which found that genes are "discoveries" rather than "inventions".
Jackie Coles, the acting CEO of the National Breast Cancer Foundation, translated the ruling into potential action, saying that:
Lifting the restrictions on BRCA1 will allow researchers to translate fundamental knowledge about our genetic make-up into real advances in breast cancer detection and treatment.
Intellectual property expert Matthew Rimmer said that Australia's ruling would "be of significance to ongoing litigation", even in other countries. Rimmer pointed to the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario's fight against gene patents in Canada as one example.
— CHEO Hospital Ottawa (@CHEOhospital) October 7, 2015
Rimmer also spoke of the benefit to genetic researchers, who would now be able to work free from patent concerns. D'Arcy and Rimmer both believe that the ruling will have a significant impact on the price of the genetic testing, making it more affordable for Australian citizens.