Liberate the Breast Cancer Genes?

POST BY Kary L. Moss Executive Director
March 31, 2010

Let’s liberate the breast cancer genes! I’ll bet you didn’t know that they needed liberating, but until this week, private corporations could actually patent human genes.

In successfully challenging this practice, the ACLU has made a huge contribution to medical progress and scientific knowledge by winning a federal lawsuit that took on a patent of two genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer.

The case itself challenges the ability of Myriad Genetics to own the patent on the BRCA genes with the result that they could charge more for diagnostic testing than our clients could afford to pay. According to the New York Times, about 20 percent of human genes have been patented, and multibillion-dollar industries have been built atop the intellectual property rights that the patents grant.

The ACLU is not challenging the ability of companies like Myriad to patent diagnostic technology but, rather, only the gene itself as something that occurs naturally in the environment. When private companies patent a gene, they can then obtain a monopoly on the tests, keeping prices high and preventing women from getting a confirmatory test from another laboratory.

The decision is good news not only for women at risk for breast and ovarian cancer, but also for men who carry the gene mutation that raises their risk for prostate, pancreatic, and other types of cancer.

But don't take it from me; listen to the firsthand accounts of our clients and experts in this video.

By Kary L. Moss, ACLU of Michigan executive director

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