'Jewish' Breast Cancer BRCA Gene in Spotlight as Supreme Court Hears Case

Can Human DNA Be Patented?

High Risk: Jill Steinberg had a gene mutation that often leads to breast cancer. She called it a ‘no-brainer’ to undergo radical breast surgery.
nate lavey
High Risk: Jill Steinberg had a gene mutation that often leads to breast cancer. She called it a ‘no-brainer’ to undergo radical breast surgery.

By Reuters

Published April 15, 2013.
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Mark Capone, president of Myriad’s laboratory division, counters that gene patents, by rewarding research, help patients. He said scientific research has not been hindered by the biotechnology company’s patents, citing 18,000 scientists who have published 10,000 papers on BRCA.

“These are among the most studied genes in the world,” Capone said.

“We’ve been able to save thousands of patients’ lives” by telling patients they have cancer-causing BRCA mutations, he added.

The BIO industry group supports Myriad, saying patents are crucial to “the development of therapeutic, diagnostic, environmental, renewable energy, and agricultural products,” and without patent protection such scientific discoveries would not be made.

GENE VARIANTS

The BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes account for most inherited forms of breast and ovarian cancer. They can be used to detect risk, and aid in treatment options.

Myriad has sole access to its proprietary database of BRCA sequences, which show whether a particular DNA change is dangerous. In 2004, Myriad stopped sharing that information with a breast cancer database run by the National Institutes of Health. Capone said the company was concerned that the information was being used not for research purposes, as intended, but to guide patient care.

Critics say the move has impeded research on BRCA, in particular studies to figure out the significance of rare variants and how such anomalies interact with other genes to increase or decrease the risk of cancer.

“Myriad’s exclusive control has led to the misdiagnosis of patients and has precluded the deployment of improved genetic tests,” said Lori Andrews, a law professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, who wrote the American Medical Association’s brief to the Supreme Court.


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