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Who Owns Your Breast Cancer Genes?

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Not so fast Myriad Genetics. Back to court with you so the judicial system can reconsider the decision to uphold your patents on OUR BRCA genes. Good news for us BRCA mutation carriers, bad news for you. Or is it?

Myriad’s stock rose 56 cents on Monday, following the Supreme Court ruling that their right to patent our genes needs to be reconsidered. That’s after it had fallen a week ago following the news that the Supreme Court had ruled that Prometheus Laboratories was not eligible for a patent because its blood test merely reflects a law of nature. The ruling on the Prometheus Lab patent was clearly bad news for Myriad, so how is that a Supreme Court order to reconsider the decision to uphold Myriad’s own patents good news for Myriad stockholders? I wondered the same thing.

Instead of hearing and ruling on the case, the Supreme Court opted to instead send it back to what the New York Times refers to as “the presumably more patent-friendly appellate court.” There are those distinguishing between Prometheus’s efforts to patent a testing method, while Myriad seeks to maintain its patent on “stuff,” our genes that is.

Stockholders, lawyers, academics, the biotechnology industry, and humanity can place bets, but we’ll have to wait for the actual results before we truly know what, if anything, the Prometheus ruling means for Myriad’s gene patents. Previously, Myriad also had patents on the process for testing for BRCA mutations that raise the risk of cancer, but the appeals court ruled those claims invalid.

I am grateful that Myriad, along with the University of Utah, a PUBLIC UNIVERSITY—presumably receiving public money, isolated the BRCA 1&2 genes, enabling individuals and families like mine to empower ourselves with specific knowledge regarding our genetic predisposition to breast and/or ovarian cancer. I am bothered (to say the least) that Myriad Genetics, Inc. seems determined to maintain a monopoly control over my genes.

This news matters for ALL of us. A common misconception is that only some of us have BRCA genes and an associated inherited predisposition to breast and/or ovarian cancer. In fact, we ALL have BRCA genes, and when they’re not mutated, they play a protective role by preventing out-of-control cell division (ie. cancer). For what I found to be further fabulous reading on the implications of gene patents for we lay-people with BRCA genes (mutated or not), go here, or check out: http://scienceblogs.com/geneticfuture/2010/03/jaw-dropping_verdict_against_m.php.

Are you following this story? What do you think about the fact that profit-making corporations can patent your genes?

Susan Beausang, 4women.com

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