MASSDEVICE ON CALL — A Federal Circuit court ruled that corporations can patent genes, overturning a lower court decision, but lawyers predict the fight isn’t over yet.
Federal judges ruled 2 to 1 that Myriad Genetics Inc. of Salt Lake City, Utah, was entitled to two breast cancer gene patents used to predict whether women have a higher risk of developing breast cancer or ovarian cancer.
"Broad claims to genetic material present a significant obstacle to the next generation of innovation in genetic medicine — multiplex tests and whole-genome sequencing," Judge William Bryson wrote in his dissenting opinion. "New technologies are being developed to sequence many genes or even an entire human genome rapidly, but firms developing those technologies are encountering a thicket of patents.”
“This decision is in the best interests of the agriculture, biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, as well as the hundreds of millions of people whose lives are bettered by the products these industries develop based on the promise of strong patent protection,” Myriad president & CEO Peter Meldrum said.
A New York judge had ruled in a prior case raised by researchers, breast cancer patients and the American Civil Liberties Union that the pieces of DNA isolated by Myriad were "products of nature" and therefore not patentable, MassHighTech reported.
While the federal court reversed the decision, it did so while dismissing many of Myriad’s claims to proprietary diagnostic methods for comparing gene sequences.
“This is one battle, but not the war,” intellectual property attorney Erik Belt said. He filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Boston Patent Law Assn. in support of Myriad. “My guess is that there will be a lot more legal shouting before this is over, and another year’s worth of legal wrangling. One side or another, or both, will appeal.”
“[This] ruling is a blow to the idea that patent law cannot impede the free flow of ideas in scientific research,” ACLU staff attorney with the Speech, Privacy and Technology Project Chris Hansen said in a statement. “Human DNA is not a manufactured invention, but a natural entity like air or water. To claim ownership of genetic information is to unnecessarily block the free exchange of ideas.”
Health stocks down on debt deal’s Medicare cuts
Minnesota health giants are facing sliding stock prices on news of the debt deal as investors fear cuts to Medicare and other health programs, the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal reported.
"There’s a lot of uncertainty about the Super Commission and the Medicare cuts, which is why everything is cratering," Ipsita Smolinski, analyst at Capitol Street in Washington, told Reuters."People didn’t think Medicare would be included (in the cuts). And now they’re trying to absorb that… plans and providers could get cut in the second round."
Florida keep fighting health reform, refuses health exchange funds
Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott refused $1 million in federal money granted to help the state plan for a federal health insurance exchange, Tampa Bay Online news reported.
A Pensacola federal judge ruled that the individual health insurance mandate in the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, and Scott has put the brakes on much reform-related activity until the legal challenges are cleared up.
The Act mandates that states set up health exchanges by 2014 to create a "marketplace" where uninsured citizens can compare costs of private health plans and buy insurance. Any states that don’t make the deadline risk having one put in place and run by the federal government.
Florida legislators make headlines earlier this month by refusing $50 million in federal child-abuse prevention funds on philosophical grounds because the money came from President Barack Obama’s health care reform package.
Co-pay-free women’s health services (including birth control) becomes official
Health insurers will have to provide birth control and several other women’s health services at no cost to customers starting on Aug. 1, 2012, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The Dept. of Health & Human Services accepted the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations that eight services pertaining to women’s health be provided at no up-front costs, including birth control, HPV testing and domestic violence screening and counseling.
The recommendations drew a lot of fire from the Family Research Council which likened the measure to federally mandated coverage for abortions.
Bear bile may keep the heart in step
A compound found in bear bile might help prevent disturbances in regular heart rhythm, according to a study published in the journal Hepatology.
"These findings are exciting because the treatments we have now are largely ineffective at preventing arrhythmia in patients who develop an abnormal heart rhythm after a heart attack," the study’s senior author Dr. Julia Gorelik said in prepared remarks. "Our results from the lab suggest that UDCA could help the heart muscle conduct electrical signals more normally. We’re hoping to set up a clinical trial to test whether these results translate to patients with heart failure."
Ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), found in bear bile, can be developed into a drug that decreases cholesterol production and even dissolves gallstones. The chemical is already present in many traditional Chinese medicines made from bear bile, according to the release.