The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday ruled that companies can’t patent naturally occurring portions of human DNA — a decision that was lauded by a host of San Diego biotechs participating in this year’s CalBio conference downtown.

It did find, however, that synthetic DNA strands could, in fact, be patented.

“I think it sort of reaffirms very nicely the assumptions that all of us are operating on as the right way to proceed,” J. Craig Venter, a reputed San Diego biologist and entrepreneur who was heavily involved in the Human Genome Project, said in his keynote speech. “I think it’s a very positive decision for the biotech industry.”

The ruling found that Salt Lake City-based Myriad Genetics Inc. could not patent natural genetic mutations found to increase risk of breast and ovarian cancer. They were challenged by a group of scientists, which led up to the case in high court — despite the fact that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has permitted the patenting of human genes for nearly 30 years.

— SDBJ Staff Report