For many women and many families the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that naturally occurring genes in the human genome cannot be patented is highly personal. I’ve been waiting to decide on whether to post on this topic here on DrPullen.com. My wife has ovarian cancer and has been found to have a BRCA2 gene mutation that required the expensive Myriad test to diagnose, without any option for confirmatory testing because of the Myriad patent on the gene.
I have very strong feelings on this topic as do lot’s of individuals and families affected by one of these gene mutations. I’m very pleased with the recent U.S. Supreme court’s unanimous ruling against Myriad. When I read Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s article in the Huffington Post blog telling about how for her and many others the ruling is highly personal I recognized that my strong personal feelings on the issue were shared by many. Having research into breast cancer genetics held hostage to a patent on a naturally occurring gene has been ethically wrong, and this is now recogized by U.S. law. Fortunately the court ruling agreed with this opinion. There are lots of reasons that opening up use of the human genome to competition will benefit the general populace. Here are just a few:
- Without more than one source of genetic testing patients have had to make critical health care decisions based on a single test available only through one company without the ability to even know the incidence of false positives or false negative test results. Patients could not get confirmatory testing from an independent second source. This situation will not exist much longer.
- The cost of genetic testing should drop considerably.
- It is likely that entire genome sequencing is going to become an option for individuals in the future. With certain gene testing having exclusive patents this option would have been in legal jeopardy.
- Research may well develop better, more specific, sensitive or accurate tests than those held by the first to discover testing for a gene sequence. This was not an option when the rights to the gene itself were controlled by patent.
- With less expensive gene testing available research will become more affordable. Especially in situations like the BRCA gene mutations, some therapy options seem to work better in patients with these gene mutations. Lower cost of testing will allow more research into more specific therapy
The most common headline I’ve seen about this ruling is that it is a win-win situation, with uncertainty lifted from companies doing business in gene testing and therapy, and for patients and scientists with interest in gene testing for their health or research. It was nice to see our Supreme Court come through with a unanimous ruling on this important and for some very personal legal issue.
You may also enjoy an earlier post: BRCA Gene Patent