You might know who Angelina Jolie is.
Jolie underwent a preventive double mastectomy after learning that she was at high risk for breast cancer because of an inherited gene. The test for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that she took actually costs $3,000 because a company called Myriad Genetics owns a patent on the mutated gene and therefore, a monopoly on the test.
Myriad Genetics was sued and the case went to the Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously that isolated human genes can not be patented.
In the opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that, “Myriad did not create or
alter either the genetic information encoded in the BCRA1 and BCRA2 genes or the genetic structure of the DNA. It found an important and useful gene, but groundbreaking, innovative, or even brilliant discovery does not by itself satisfy the inquiry.”
The ruling means other companies will legally be able to offer tests to find the breast cancer genes.
“I think there might be some blustering or saber rattling, but I would be really surprised if they sue anybody for patent infringement for a diagnostic test,” Robert Cook-Deegan, a research professor at Duke University’s Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, told The New York Times.
All was not lost for Myriad Genetics — the justices ruled that artificial genes can be patented.
Complementary or cDNA can be protected by patent, since something new is being created. This is the case with cloned genes. Justice Thomas wrote, “cDNA does not present the same obstacles to patentability as naturally occurring, isolated DNA segments.” The Utah-based company’s stock price was up about 10 percent in early trading, a sign that investors didn’t see the ruling as a complete loss.
Regardless, it looks like soon more people will be able to afford a test to determine if they’re at increased risk of breast cancer, just like Angelina did.