By now probably almost everyone has heard or read about the Supreme Court’s decision on June 13th to strike down Myriad Genetics’ patents on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. In case you haven’t, you can catch up here or here.
All nine Supreme Court Judges concurred on this one; the decision was unanimous. Did we really need nine judges from the highest court in the land to tell us that patenting human genes is a no-no?
Seriously though, this decision was/is a huge deal. Some have been downplaying the impact of it all mostly because of the compromise part that says cDNA (complimentary or synthetic DNA) is allowed to be patented. Admittedly, I’m still a bit confused about this whole cDNA part of the conversation, but it seems reasonable (I hope) that this is how things went down and that this material is still eligible to be patented. For a brief and sort of helpful video explanation about cDNA, click here.
Bottom line here is if Mary-Claire King, the geneticist who discovered the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, says she is delighted about the Supreme Court ruling, well, that’s good enough for me. I’m delighted too!
I am not a scientist. I am not a law expert. I am not a doctor. I am not a researcher. I am not a businesswoman.
I am, however, a woman with a BRCA2 gene mutation.
I am a woman whose family has faced the serious and life-changing issue of hereditary cancer. I am a woman who has seen the words positive for a deleterious mutation slapped onto my purple folder. I am a woman who understands about the difficult decisions regarding removing body parts prophylactically or otherwise. I am a woman who cares about other women (and men) having access to life-saving information, testing, treatment and preventive options. I am a woman who cares about research and the future of personalized medicine for all.
After this ruling, things are still far from perfect. Our health care system in the U.S. is still a mess. Disparity is a huge concern. Perhaps many more questions will now bubble up as a result of this decision. There will undoubtedly be more stuff to sort out.
But, this is still a landmark ruling. It’s still progress. It’s still a huge deal.
Myriad’s monopoly is broken. Their reign in ‘the land of BRCA testing’ has come to an end. Other researchers can now study, test and analyze this kind of genetic material without worrying about licensing requirements and patent infringements.
This ruling is also super important for further study benefiting those who test negative after undergoing genetic testing, but still obviously have a hereditary risk factor going on. Again, the research door has been swung open.
Second opinions are now possible without getting permission from Myriad. Other companies can now offer this kind of test; they are and more will.
The cost of genetic testing will tumble allowing more individuals to have access to life-saving information and therefore life-saving options/actions, hopefully along with genetic counseling.
No monopoly means competition, which means a built in checks and balance system will now become a reality.
A corporation can no longer claim ownership of human genes.
The decision the Supreme Court reached was morally, ethically and legally the right one.
This decision will potentially impact the future of personalized medicine for everyone and today directly impacts many who live with hereditary risk.
So yes, this is a victory.
I’d like to say thank you to all who helped make this happen. I don’t even know who you all are, but I thank you still.
BCAction Executive Director Karuna Jaggar had these words to say:
“The importance of this ruling is far-reaching for breast cancer and for all of us who care about corporate control of our genes. In the fast-paced, ever-changing landscape of cancer research, access to genomic information is vital.
One of the single greatest barriers to breast cancer research, improved testing, new diagnostic tools and targeted therapies related to the BRCA genes was today struck down.”
A landmark decision – indeed it was.