Breast cancer patients filed a lawsuit challenging the gene patents held by Myriad Genetics. This company currently owns the exclusive license to test for the two genetic mutations that cause breast cancer. Essentially, the lawsuit strikes at the idea that pharmaceutical companies to patent genes that occur naturally in the human body. Myriad’s right to these genes “hampers clinical diagnosis” and discourages research on the cancer genes.
Genetic testing for the BRCA mutations allows women with a strong family history of breast cancer to have a better chance of calculating their chances of having the cancer at some point in the future. With this knowledge, they can take steps to get early screenings.
The gene tests, which sequence a portion of a cell’s DNA, are extremely complicated to perform, and there is a high margin of error, so there is a probable benefit to having multiple companies do the tests (potentially lowering the error rate). The cancer patients who are suing wish to be able to have the option to have their test repeated by another lab if, say, the result comes back negative for a mutation even though several immediate family members have the disease.
Because Myriad holds the patent to the two breast cancer genes, no other labs in this country are legally allowed to perform the gene tests. Because of this monopoly, the company can get away with charging three thousand dollars for the test: well outside of the price range for many people. Oh, and another thing: Myriad does not accept insurance. Naturally, when more companies or research facilities emerge on the scene, the price should go down.
There is currently no arching policy for genetic testing and patents on genetic material. There have been many problems surrounding this (at one point or another, an Inuit tribe’s gene which helped fight some disease [I cannot find the original article and my memory falters] was taken and patented by an American company without the Native Americans’ consent. They sued and I believe they won their case. At this point, I wish to state my opinion on the matter. The current situation is simply horrible. This genetic testing is required to help many, many people fight against a terrible affliction. Nobody, especially some company who clearly doesn’t give a damn about those in need (it won’t accept insurance!), should have exclusive rights to a gene. It’s owning a part of a human being. No matter how small a part, ownership of another person is wrong.