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Australian Court Allows Patenting of Human Genetic Material
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On Friday, an Australian court ruled that genetic material related to cancer can be patented by two technology companies.

A similar case is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court and scheduled for hearing on April 15.

Cancer support groups opposed the finding and said the ruling that allows U.S.-based Myriad Genetics Inc and Melbourne-based Genetic Technologies Ltd to hold a patent on human genetic material can lead to stifling new cancer research.

  
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The material, BRCA1, which is being allowed patent in Australia, is associated with high-risk hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. The issue, which is going to influence the lives of billions of woman worldwide, now, and in the future, now remains to be judged by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Trial judge John Nicholas, who found for the companies in Australia, however observed despite public sentiments that “It would lead to very odd results if a person whose skill and effort culminated in the isolation of a micro-organism … could not be independently rewarded by the grant of a patent.”

He also reasoned that the material in question could be allowed to be patented as it could not survive naturally on its own either inside or outside the human body – it needed cancer cells to survive.

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Ian Olver, the chief executive of the Australian Cancer Council said the finding would help private companies to monopolize genetic mutation tests linked to breast and ovarian cancer. He said the law needs to be amended to protect humanity “from gene monopolies.”

If the companies can manage to win in U.S., anyone who wants access to the genetic material would need to pay high rates. However, it might be extremely difficult or impossible to patent and monopolize such human genetic material that holds out hope to millions of women, in U.S.



 

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