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Supreme Court Rules Companies Cannot Patent Human Genes

June 14, 2013

The decision may allow others to offer BRCA testing at lower cost. Jean A. Sachs, MSS, MLSP, Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s chief executive officer, and the LBBC staff want to know what you think about this ruling.

 PHILADELPHIA – The nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously yesterday in  Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics that corporations may not patent human genes because they are products of nature.

“This decision has important implications for all women and families affected by hereditary breast cancer, potentially lowering the costs of genetic tests, increasing access to second opinions, and encouraging unfettered communication among researchers into the causes of disease,” said Jean A. Sachs, MSS, MLSP, CEO of Living Beyond Breast Cancer.

The case focused on Myriad Genetics’ patent claim over BRCA1 and BRCA2, genes that repair damage to cells in all humans. When mutated (damaged) and passed onto a child at birth from the father or mother, BRCA genes dramatically increase a person’s chance of developing breast and ovarian cancer.

“The ruling touches all people concerned about cancer, but we are particularly pleased that it may benefit a number of underserved groups for which we have targeted programs,” Ms. Sachs said. “Premenopausal women, women with triple-negative breast cancer, and African-American women are all known to have a higher incidence of BRCA mutations.”

Until now, only Myriad Genetics could legally offer the test that analyzes the full BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Over the next several months, Living Beyond Breast Cancer anticipates:

  • Companies, academic institutions, laboratories and medical facilities with multi-gene assays will begin to offer BRCA testing
  • The cost of genetic testing will drop significantly from its current price of nearly $4,000 to $1,000 or less
  • Individuals who undergo genetic testing will gain the ability to obtain second opinions for positive, negative and uncertain results
  • Increased market competition will allow individuals, facilities and payors to select among a variety of BRCA tests, and each test will have its own strengths and weaknesses
  • More transparency about the BRCA genes will spur research into their role in the development of both hereditary and non-hereditary breast cancers

The court also ruled that corporations may patent complementary DNA (cDNA), a product created by manipulating human DNA to eliminate parts of the gene. As experts continue to interpret the Supreme Court ruling, the role of cDNA in BRCA and other genetic testing may become clearer.

“This ruling will offer the people we serve more choices—and more information to absorb during treatment decision-making,” Ms. Sachs said. “As a national education organization, Living Beyond Breast Cancer will provide education, tools and support, and help connect women with LBBC volunteers and our colleagues at other organizations to help them get the information they need.”

Living Beyond Breast Cancer offers information about hereditary breast cancers on its website and, working with several collaborating organizations, will release a new brochure in October, the Guide to Understanding Genetics and Family Risk Assessment. For peer emotional support, call LBBC’s Helpline at (888) 753-LBBC (5222).

We want to know your thoughts on this case. What do you think of the Supreme Court’s decision? What questions or concerns does this case prompt for you? Please share your perspectives in the comment section on our blog or on our  Facebook page

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