More Bad Legal News for Athena Diagnostics: Don’t Mess with Mayo

We have been reporting for more than a year about the case of Williams v. Quest Diagnostics (the parent company of Athena Diagnostics), in which the plaintiff has sued Athena and Quest for causing the death of her son by misclassifying a genetic variant when testing the boy’s DNA. That case is now on  hold in a South Carolina federal court until the state’s Supreme Court resolves the question of whether a genetic testing lab is a licensed healthcare provider under South Carolina law. If it is, then the case will be governed by the state’s malpractice statute of limitations and will probably be dismissed as having been filed too late. If it’s not, then the ordinary negligence statute of limitations will apply and the case will probably be allowed to proceed.

But now Athena faces an adverse ruling from another court—a Massachusetts federal district court—in a patent infringement suit that Athena and two co-plaintiffs brought against Mayo Collaborative Services and the Mayo Clinic: Athena Diagnostics, Inc. v. Mayo Collaborative Services, LLC. In an August 4, 2017 decision, Judge Indira Talwani invalidated Athena’s patent on a method for diagnosing myasthenia gravis (MG), an autoimmune disease that depletes muscle strength. Previous tests detected what are called AChR autoantibodies (antibodies that attack antigens originating in the patient’s own body as if they were foreign substances) to diagnose MG.

But 20% of MG patients don’t have AChR autoantibodies, so the earlier tests yield false negatives. The inventors of the Athena patent discovered that the 20% do have another kind of autoantibody that attacks a neuromuscular protein receptor called MuSK. The patented method calls for making a version of MuSK with a radioactive label (125I-MuSK) and then introducing the 125I-MuSK to a bodily fluid (blood) sample from the patient. If MuSK autoantibodies are detected, the patient is diagnosed with MG.


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Filed under Genomics & Medicine, Patent Litigation, Pending Litigation

Myriad Back in Court Again — This Time as a Defendant

MyriadMyriad Genetics is once again embroiled in litigation over its BRCA-related patents. But this time Myriad is the defendant. Counsyl, Inc., a San Francisco-based company that focuses on genetic carrier testing, sued Myriad in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on September 20, 2013. As we noted in an earlier post, Myriad — as a plaintiffhas recently sued two small companies, Ambry and Gene By Gene, that have entered the BRCA testing market in response to the Supreme Court decision invalidating Myriad’s gDNA patent. Myriad presumably filed those suits — against vulnerable defendants — to send a message that it would maintain its testing monopoly by enforcing patent claims that had survived the earlier litigation. But it took the risk that the defendants might succeed in invalidating those surviving claims. Now, with the Counsyl suit, the BRCA controversy has entered a new stage, with a prospective competitor launching a preemptive strike against Myriad and its patents.


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Filed under Genetic Testing/Screening, Genomics & Medicine, Myriad Gene Patent Litigation, Patent Litigation, Patents & IP, Pending Litigation, Pending Regulation

Myriad, Finally: Supreme Court Surprises by not Surprising

After what seemed like an eternity, the epic saga known as AMP v. Myriad Genetics has finally come to a close. On June 13, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled (1) that isolated genomic DNA (gDNA) is not patent-eligible under section 101 of the Patent Act, but (2) cDNA is. For once, what the Justices said at oral argument gave accurate clues to what they really thought, and the result was what almost every observer (including this one) had predicted.


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Filed under Direct-to-Consumer Services, Genetic Testing/Screening, Genomics & Medicine, Genomics & Society, Myriad Gene Patent Litigation, Patent Litigation, Patents & IP

Supreme Court to Rule on Patentability of Human Genes

Robert Cook-Deegan contributed to this commentary. Dr. Cook-Deegan is a research professor in the Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy and the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University.

The Supreme Court today granted a writ of certiorari (meaning they agreed to hear the appeal) in Assoc. for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., et al., the famous case centered on patents covering two human genes: BRCA1 and BRCA2.

Of note is that the Court limited its grant of the appeal to the first of the three questions posed by the petitioners/plaintiffs: “Are human genes patentable?


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Filed under General Interest, Genetic Testing/Screening, Genomic Policymaking, Genomics & Society, Industry News, Legal & Regulatory, Myriad Gene Patent Litigation, Patents & IP, Pending Litigation

Myriad Updates: Clinical Data as Trade Secrets and a Pending Certiorari Decision

Earlier this month, my colleagues John Conley, Robert Cook-Deegan, James Evans and I published a policy article in the European Journal of Human Genetics (EJHG) entitled “The next controversy in genetic testing: clinical data as trade secrets.”

The EJHG article is open access so you can read the entire article at the EJHG website, but here is the abstract:


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Filed under Biobanking, General Interest, Genetic Testing/Screening, Genomic Policymaking, Genomic Sequencing, Genomics & Medicine, Genomics & Society, Industry News, International Developments, International News, Legal & Regulatory, Myriad Gene Patent Litigation, Patents & IP, Pending Litigation

Applying Mayo to Myriad: Latest Decision Brings No New News (Plus: Why the Final Myriad Decision Might Not Matter for Personalized Medicine)

The latest chapter in the Myriad gene patent litigation was written yesterday, with the Federal Circuit issuing its much anticipated opinion (pdf) after rehearing the case following the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision earlier this year in Prometheus v. Mayo.

Or perhaps we should say that the latest chapter was “rewritten” as, in a move that surprised approximately nobody, and as we predicted earlier this spring, the Federal Circuit reached precisely the same result in its opinion today as it did last July when it issued its first substantive ruling in the Myriad litigation. Below, we examine how the Federal Circuit applied Mayo to Myriad, what the next step in the Myriad litigation is likely to be (spoiler alert: it’s another appeal) and why we think the final opinion in this case, whenever it arrives and whatever it says, might not matter all that much.

Applying Mayo to Myriad. As mentioned, the only major change since the last time the Federal Circuit ruled in Myriad, and the reason for the re-hearing, was the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this spring in Mayo.

However, Mayo was about method patents and the boundary between a patent-eligible method and a law of nature. It was not about product patents or the product of nature doctrine. Since the Federal Circuit had already invalidated all but one of Myriad’s method patents even before the Supreme Court tightened the criteria for method patents in Mayo, it was hard to see much of substance changing the second time around.


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Filed under General Interest, Genetic Testing/Screening, Genomic Policymaking, Genomic Sequencing, Genomics & Medicine, Genomics & Society, Industry News, Legal & Regulatory, Myriad Gene Patent Litigation, Patents & IP, Pending Litigation

Myriad Finally Reaches the Supreme Court (But Only For a Moment)

Yesterday, the Supreme Court (as we predicted last week that it might) GVR’d the certiorari petitions (pdf) of both parties in the Myriad Genetics case.

Big news, right? Not really.

What this means is that the Court Granted cert in Myriad, but for the limited purpose of Vacating the Federal Circuit’s July 2011 decision and Remanding the case to that court for reconsideration in light of the Supreme Court’s decision last week in Prometheus.


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Filed under General Interest, Genetic Testing/Screening, Genomic Policymaking, Genomics & Society, Industry News, Legal & Regulatory, Myriad Gene Patent Litigation, Patents & IP, Pending Litigation

Prometheus Patents Struck Down, 9-0: Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc. Analysis

In a strong rebuke to the Federal Circuit, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court held (pdf), on March 20, 2012, that Prometheus Laboratories’ claims to methods of administering drugs to treat gastrointestinal autoimmune diseases do not meet the patentable subject matter standard of section 101 of the Patent Act.  The representative claim quoted by the Court recites, “A method of optimizing therapeutic efficacy for treatment of an immune-mediated gastrointestinal disorder” comprising two steps: (a) administering one of a class of drugs (thiopurines) and (b) determining the level of a specified metabolite, “wherein” a level below a given threshold “indicates a need to increase the amount of said drug subsequently administered” [to improve efficacy], and a level above the threshold “indicates a need to decrease the amount of said drug subsequently administered” [to avoid toxicity].

History of the Case. Mayo originally bought and used Prometheus test kits that employed the patented method, but it then decided to sell and market its own test, which was similar, but not identical.  Prometheus sued for patent infringement.  The district court found that Mayo’s test would infringe the Prometheus patents, but it then held the patents invalid as essentially claiming unpatentable laws of nature–in this case, the relationship between the levels of the specified metabolite and the efficacy or toxicity of the relevant drugs.


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Filed under General Interest, Genetic Testing/Screening, Genomics & Medicine, Industry News, Legal & Regulatory, Myriad Gene Patent Litigation, Pending Litigation

Analyzing The America Invents Act

The America Invents Act (pdf) (AIA), which was signed into law by President Obama on Friday, September 16, 2011, represents the first major legislative adjustment to the U.S. patent system in decades (see previous coverage). Many changes are included in the 37 sections of this bill, and they will not all take effect at the same time. The most controversial details, found primarily in § 3 of the AIA, continue to be analyzed and debated extensively elsewhere, but there are several elements that may be of particular interest to GLR readers.

First-to-file (§ 3): The most significant change is from a “first-to-invent” system to a “first-to-file” system. Until now, it has been possible for
inventor A to challenge the application of inventor B, who filed an earlier application for the same invention, based on evidence that inventor A had actually invented first.


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Filed under General Interest, Genetic Testing/Screening, Industry News, Legal & Regulatory, Patents & IP, Pending Regulation

Classen: Has the Federal Circuit Lost Interest in Patentable Subject Matter?

Allison Williams Dobson is an attorney, scientist and lecturer in the Norfolk, Virginia area and is a regular GLR contributor.

But First: The Federal Circuit Has Denied the Plaintiff’s Motion for Rehearing in Myriad: This week, the Federal Circuit issued a one-word order—“Denied”—turning down both parties’ requests for rehearing by the three-judge panel that decided that case originally. The parties now have 90 days to file a certiorari petition asking for Supreme Court review.

This news is not surprising considering the Federal Circuit’s most recent treatment of patent-eligible subject matter under § 101 of the Patent Act. On August 31, 2011, another 2-1 divided panel issued its opinion (three very strong opinions, really) in Classen Immunotherapies, Inc. v Biogen Idec (pdf).

The majority finds that two of the three method patents in dispute claim subject matter that is patent-eligible under § 101. However, the court also emphasizes repeatedly that the two patents “may not” meet the other requirements for patentability imposed by §§ 102 (novelty), 103 (nonobviousness), and/or 112 (adequate written description). The thrust of the majority’s message is becoming a familiar mantra–the statutory role of § 101 is to act as a “coarse eligibility filter”–a gateway to the real tests–and not the “final arbiter of patentability.”


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Filed under General Interest, Genetic Testing/Screening, Industry News, Legal & Regulatory, Myriad Gene Patent Litigation, Patents & IP, Pending Litigation