Breast cancer gene patents: the fight continues

5 September 2014
Social justice law firm Maurice Blackburn will consider an appeal to the High Court of Australia following a judgment today of the Full Federal Court upholding the validity of a gene patent that is associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

The test case Cancer Voices Australia v Myriad Genetics Inc [2013] FCA 65 required the Federal Court to determine the legal validity of a patent involving mutations of human genetic material.

Rebecca Gilsenan, principal lawyer at Maurice Blackburn who has fought the case since 2010, said:

“We are very disappointed, and share the concerns of cancer advocacy organisations who are worried about the implications of companies having the right to own naturally occurring human genetic material.

“This is a matter of great public interest. Many Australians are alarmed at the prospect of their genes being owned by unknown corporations. The judgment has significance for access to genetic testing, research and the development of treatments for diseases. We will look at appealing the decision once we have considered the judgment in detail.

Maurice Blackburn’s social justice practice began the case in June 2010 on behalf of Yvonne D’Arcy, a Brisbane woman with breast cancer. The Full Bench judgement today follows an appeal held in August 2013 from a decision of the Federal Court made in February 2013. The 2013 case before Justice Nicholas ruled that Myriad’s patent over the BRCA1 gene should be upheld, on the basis that isolated gene sequences were the product of human intervention and are therefore patentable.

Lawyers acting in the matter are Maurice Blackburn, barrister David Catterns QC and Professor Peter Cashman of Sydney University. 

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