Patent ruling won't alter Empire Genomics approach

2013-06-14 15:07:48
A Buffalo biotech firm says the U.S. Supreme Court decision this week on patents and genetics won’t likely have a major impact on its business, but the ruling does provide some clarity.

Empire Genomics LLC of Buffalo provides molecular genomic testing, specializing in oncology and personalized medicine.

Thursday’s Supreme Court decision involved patents by Salt Lake City-based Myriad Genetics Inc., which holds patents related to the discovery and sequence of two genes, which it used to develop tests for breast and ovarian cancer. Simply put: The court said naturally-occurring human genes cannot be patented.

Anthony Johnson, president and CEO at Empire Genomics, said the court’s decision was widely anticipated among industry leaders. In the short term, the decision doesn’t help or hurt the local company.

“We’re in compliance definitely and not concerned with that as a company, but it’s good to get some clarity so you know what to do moving forward,” he said. “We’ve been reviewing the licenses and the areas the Supreme Court has upheld are patentable and inventive, not just aspects of do you have a gene or not.”

With Myriad’s existing patents invalidated, industry groups say the decision could open up opportunities for other testing and diagnostics companies eager to begin developing cancer tests. The Association for Molecular Pathology, which filed the lawsuit challenging Myriad’s patents, said the decision could have positive implications for the field.

“The court’s decision that human genes are not patentable is a great step forward for the field of molecular pathology, for genomic science, and most important for our patients. We look forward to exciting future advancements in diagnostic testing and therapeutics that will accrue to the benefit of our patients and our field.”

The genetics and genomics industry’s impact on the economy has climbed to $965 billion since 1988, according to a Battelle study released Wednesday by United for Medical Research. The study examines the impact of billions of dollars of private and governmental investment in genomic research.

That’s true here in Buffalo as well: In addition to its own genomic testing research, Empire Genomics is also working with Life Technologies Corp. and the University at Buffalo to create a new gene sequencing facility on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus for genetics-based clinical research.

In recent weeks, Empire Genomics announced it will begin developing a genomic companion diagnostic test for multiple myeloma using a new federal grant from the National Cancer Institute within the National Institutes of Health. It’s also developing a molecular diagnostic test to help diagnose and treat patients with neuroendocrine prostate cancer using licensed technology from Cornell University.

Johnson said the company is poised for growth.

“All this research over the past three to four years is coming to fruition to be commercializable,” he said. “Companies like Empire would not be around if not for all the money the government has put into genomics research.”

“We’re definitely growing rapidly. We’re on pace with what we projected and are growing even faster.”