Judge Rules Against Breast Cancer Gene Patent

Cristen Conger

A U.S. judge struck down patents on the breast cancer genes. (Kristin Duvall/Getty Images)

Stuff Mom Never Told You listeners from way back when might remember a podcast on breast cancer genes known as BRCA 1 and BRCA 2. (The episode is entitled "Why is there a patent on the breast cancer genes?" if you'd like to give it a listen). Having a mutation in either of those genes significantly increases a person's risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. And I say "person" because let's not forget that men can develop breast cancer, too. That only affects about 1 in 1,000 people, but testing for BRCA mutations has become more common particularly for women with higher hereditary chances of breast cancer.

At the time we recorded the podcast, a group of breast cancer patients with the help of the ACLU had filed a lawsuit against Myriad Genetics, a company that acquired patents for both BRCA genes. That allowed the company to license the only test available for BRCA gene mutations and even restricted breast cancer researchers from being able to study the genes without the company's permission. By cornering the market, Myriad Genetics is able to charge upwards of $4,000 for a single test. While Myriad Genetics could be credited for isolating the DNA, which is no small feat, they're still profiting off of breast cancer and inhibiting cancer research at the end of the day.

On March 29, a U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet struck down Myriad's patents. According to the Associated Press, Judge Sweet "invalidated the patents because DNA's existence in an isolated form does not alter the fundamental quality of DNA as it exists in the body nor the information it encodes." The ruling will open up competition among other companies developing BRCA tests, likely lowering the costs and foster more research on the genes themselves. Although this might not be good news for other biotech companies that hold patents on other human genes, it's certainly a bright spot for the 1 in 8 U.S. women who will battle breast cancer in their lifetimes.