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Patenting Nature And Seattle Biotech

Steve Scher
04/29/2010 at 9:00 a.m.

In late March, US District Judge Robert Sweet ruled that Myriad Genetics' patents on two genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer were invalid, due to the fact that genes are products of nature, and therefore unpatentable. This ruling has potentially far–reaching implications, for both cancer patients and Seattle's expanding biotechnology industry. Experts disagree on whether this is good news for cancer research. Supporters say it gets rid of legal roadblocks in the way of potentially life–saving technology, while opponents argue that it kills any market incentive to invest in biotechnology. We try to understand the consequences of this decision.


Stewart Lyman is a consultant for the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry with 22 years of experience in the biotechnology field.

Jon Izant is vice president of Sage Bionetworks, a new Seattle nonprofit research organization where he has helped Stephen Friend and Eric Schadt build a revolutionary public access integrative genetics resource, the Sage Commons. He has worked at The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Yale Medical School, Johnson & Johnson and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Ulrich Mueller has been vice president of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center since 2007. Previously, he served as managing director of the Technology Commercialization office at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Ulrich has extensive experience in commercializing university based technologies, both through licensing transactions as well as through the formation of start–up companies.

Andrew T. Serafini, Ph.D., is a partner in the Intellectual Property Group of Fenwick & West LLP, a law firm specializing in technology and life sciences.

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