Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Myriad Genetics sued over BRCA testing   posted by p-ter @ 5/13/2009 07:50:00 PM

Many readers have probably heard that the ACLU has sued Myriad Genetics for its patent on genetic testing on BRCA1/2 (these genes account overall for a small fraction of breast cancer cases, but for many of the strongly inherited cases).

Many companies hold gene patents, so why sue Myriad? The answer is simple: in the battle of public opinion, there's no way Myriad can come out of this looking good. A bit of recent history: the BRCA1 gene was famously mapped by a group led by Mary-Claire King, currently at the University of Washington. That group, however, narrowed down the location of the gene only to a relatively large region, and the gene itself was finally isolated months later and patented by Myriad (BRCA2 came later). Myriad did the obvious--they designed a test for a series of mutations in the genes and began to market it. However, the series of mutations they test is not the whole story--other mutations, untested by Myriad, can cause the disease as well. Other labs would be happy to market tests for these mutations, except, of course, that Myriad refuses to license its patent, preferring instead to hold onto their monopoly on the gene. The result: families that would like to be tested for rare mutations in BRCA1 but an environment in which it is illegal for any company to sell them such a test. It's not for nothing that Myriad is considered among the most hated diagnostics companies.

Myriad is probably within their legal rights, but when cases like this get publicity, laws have the funny tendency to change.