Australia's top court rules human genes not patentable inventions

The High Court of Australia today ruled in favour of a cancer survivor in a landmark judgment against a US biotech firm. In a unanimous ruling, the top court said patent claims of Myriad Genetics over a gene coding for a BRCA1 protein, which acted as a tumour suppressor, were not valid.

''The Court held that, having regard to the relevant factors, an isolated nucleic acid, coding for the BRCA1 protein, with specified variations, is not a manner of manufacture,'' the court said, in its ruling.

''While the invention claimed might be, in a formal sense, a product of human action, it was the existence of the information stored in the relevant sequences that was an essential element of the invention as claimed.''

BRCA1 gene mutations put women at an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

According to the estimates of The National Cancer Institute, women with the mutated gene had a 55 per cent to 65 per cent chance of developing breast cancer as against 12 per cent in women without the harmful mutation, and 39 per cent chance of developing ovarian cancer - compared with 1.3 per cent in women not carrying the mutation.

Yvonne D'Arcy the cancer survivor argued that the so-called breast cancer gene BRCA1 - the mutation famously carried by Hollywood star Angelina Jolie, was a naturally occurring substance.

Breast cancer, is the leading cancer killer of women aged 20-59 worldwide, and patenting a gene could stymie medical research and testing, said to supporters of the case.

"I screamed. I was just excited to know that we had it seven-nil our way," AFP reported an ecstatic D'Arcy, a 69-year-old breast cancer survivor, saying of the court's unanimous decision.

"For all those people who do have the genetic footprint for breast cancer, ovarian cancer, any cancer basically, it's a win for them because they are forewarned," she said, adding that she expected testing would become cheaper and more available.