SAN FRANCISCO, June 26, 2013 /PRNewswire/ — On June 13, the United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled that naturally occurring human genes are ineligible for patenting. The decision opens the door for researchers throughout the country to move forward with potentially life-saving genetic testing for a variety of diseases.
Dr. Stephen B. Shrewsbury, author of Defy Your DNA: How the New Gene Patch Personalized Medicines Will Help You Overcome Your Greatest Health Challenges, says that the decoding of the human genome has led to dozens of new medicines that will stop hereditary illness. "Called oligomers, these medicines are nicknamed gene patches," he says, "because they act like software patches to fix the faulty message that comes from damaged pieces of genetic coding. If those genes were patented, it would make it more difficult for researchers to advance work such as this.
Dr. Shrewsbury adds: "This new drug format has the potential to stop everything from cancer and diabetes to rare diseases like muscular dystrophy and sickle cell anemia. These medications will literally revolutionize healthcare."
In addition, gene sequences will become the foundation for very specific targeted therapies. Shrewsbury predicts blockbuster drugs will be replaced by personalized medicines geared directly to you and your disease. In the more distant future, gene patch therapy will be superseded by gene replacement therapy whereby new genes will be inserted while removing less favorable ones.
The Supreme Court ruled that patents owned by Salt Lake City-based Myriad Genetics were void because they covered DNA isolated from the body as opposed to a synthetic DNA created in a lab. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote: "We hold that a naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated."
This ruling is a win-win for both researchers and patients alike, believes Dr. Shrewsbury. The gene patent ban will serve to facilitate medical research on drugs such as those described in Defy Your DNA. "A big benefit with this new type of medicine is that the development programs take less time," he says. He also believes costs of genetic profile testing will become affordable for the average family, leading to a brave new medical world.
"In the not too distant future, when a child is born, they'll be required to have two documents: a birth certificate and a map of their DNA."
Dr. Stephen B. Shrewsbury is a physician whose 33-year career has taken him from the intimate world of family practice to Chief Medical Officer at a leading biotech firm on the cutting edge of global drug development and therapeutics. Since 2009, he has served on the Oligonucleotide Safety Working Group (OSWG), an international working group devoted to the safe development of gene patch medicines.