Jewish Women Declare Victory on Supreme Court BRCA Gene Mutation Case

Barrier To Testing for 'Jewish' Cancer Gene Is Removed

courtesy of Lisa schlager

By Anne Cohen

Published June 13, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

Joanna Rudnick, a breast cancer survivor and BRCA-1 gene carrier, turned 39 today — and got one heck of a birthday present.

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that human genes cannot be patented, although it reiterated that synthetic or altered genes may be subject to patent law. In other words, human DNA cannot be patented without being altered in some way.

Advocates called the decision a major victory.

“My life has exploded over the Myriad ruling,” she gushed on the phone. “This is an incredible birthday present. It is a victory. The barrier for women to get tested for BRCA 1 and 2 will now be gone. “

Rudnick is one thousands of Jewish women to be affected by this ruling: Ashkenazi Jews are much more likely to carry the BRCA mutation than the general population.

The court case pitted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against Myriad Genetics Inc., the biopharmaceutical company that owned the patents on the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 genes, whose mutations are linked to increased hereditary risk for breast and ovarian cancer.

Writing for the court, Justice Clarence Thomas explained: “A naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated,” he said. “It is undisputed that Myriad did not create or alter any of the genetic information encoded in the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 genes.” “Groundbreaking, innovative or even brilliant discovery does not by itself satisfy the criteria” for patent eligibility, he added.

For Arthur Caplan, head of the Division of Bioethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, the Supreme Court made the right decision.

“Immediately [the decision] means that testing should become more available for breast cancer and ovarian cancer using the Myriad test at a lower price,” explained. “Longer term this decision throws into a tizzy a huge number of existing patents,” Caplan said. “The other fallout [is still] uncertain. It’s clear that you can take [out] patents, you just have to take them on products, not on genes.

Sue Friedman, founder and executive director of FORCE: Facing Our Risk Of Cancer Empowered, agreed. As a 17-year cancer survivor and a BRCA-2 carrier, Friedman was elated.

“Personally for me, for my family, for my relatives, this is significant, but also for people who may have a mutation and have not been able to get access to that information. They are part of that extended family that we’ve built through FORCE,” she said.

“We’re very excited, over the moon,” she added. “This will really open up the ability of other tests to be developed. This is a strong message and a victory for the community that we serve.”

For Lisa Schlager, an official with FORCE, this news was a long time coming.

“I’m thrilled, I feel like this has been an ongoing battle for the past two years, and there have been so many question marks and so many opinions on how this might hinder research,” she said. “I think that nothing that happens naturally in our bodies should be patentable, and the Supreme Court obviously agrees. “

Schlager, 46, pointed out that in addition to lowering costs, this decision would potentially enable genetic clinics and counseling services that already provide testing to also test for the BRCA mutations. This especially relevant in the Jewish community, where testing for common genetic diseases like Tay Sachs is a well-developed and organized practice.

“We are big advocates of genetic counseling and an ideal place would be a Jewish genetics service that already does testing for the community,” she said. “We would love to see some of the genetic services offer this as part of their genetic testing routine for families. It could be very useful information for family planning.”

As for the partial ruling, Schlager said it was expected. “If a company develops a test that will isolate DNA certainly they should be able to patent that. What doesn’t make sense to me is to be able to patent something that occurs naturally.”

But though the ruling has been seen as a partial victory for Myriad by some, Ellen Matloff, research scientist in genetics and director of cancer genetic counseling at the Yale School of Medicine, that is not really the case.

“It is really misunderstanding the ruling to think this is a partial victory for Myriad. Believe me, its not,” Matloff wrote in an email. “This means that they have lost their patents and their exclusive monopoly. This means that other labs will immediately be offering BRCA testing. I expect that within the next 3 months. And the race is on for cheaper, faster, better testing in the long run — I expect this within the year, if not sooner.

“In the longer run, today is a huge victory for patients because research in the BRCA world will now open up,” she added. “[You can] expect the pace of research to accelerate 20 fold within the next 2 years.”

But as Joanna Rudnick pointed out, the fight for hereditary cancer awareness is far from over.

“We need to get the data back,” she explained. “That’s the next movement I’m going to get involved with. Myriad has not been publishing data [about BRCA mutations] since 2006. It’s in our hands to get that data out there and work with clinicians and reseachers.”

“I feel that justice has been done today,” she said. “But I feel there’s a lot more work to be done. We can’t stop here. “


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.