The controversial question as to whether genes are patentable subject matter in Australia will soon be answered.
On Monday 20 February 2012, the Federal Court of Australia (Sydney) began hearing the landmark case brought by lawyers on behalf of national consumer organisation Cancer Voices Australia and an Australian woman with breast cancer against Myriad Genetics Inc, and Genetic Technologies Ltd. Myriad is the owner of an Australian patent (and equivalent patents overseas) covering the BRCA1 and BRCA2 “breast cancer” genes and use of these genes in screening tests for breast and ovarian cancers. Genetic Technologies Ltd is the exclusive patent licensee and provider of the screening tests in Australia.
The court will hear arguments from both sides and it is expected this will include extensive scientific evidence from medical experts. In an anti patent attack, the applicants assert that the Myriad patent is invalid because it relates to a discovery not an invention, stifles innovation, hinders scientific research and creates inequitable access to healthcare. The respondents assert that the Myriad patent is valid because it covers isolated genes not those found in nature and is therefore not a discovery, that there is no empirical evidence to show gene patents stifle research and innovation, and that patents of this type are drivers for innovation and important to the development of gene based medicines of the future.
The court is expected to hear the matter this week and then issue a decision. Stay tuned for this landmark decision.