(William West/AFP/Getty Images)
In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday morning that human genes are not patentable.
The case centered around Myriad Genetics, the holder of patents on two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2. Some mutations of these genes are associated with an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. For women with a strong family history of these cancers, the only place they could be tested was Myriad Genetics, which sometimes charged more than $3,000 for the test.
Breast Cancer Action, an advocacy group based in San Francisco, was a plaintiff in the case, and executive director Karuna Jaggar sounded jubilant in a phone call Thursday morning.
“From our perspective, these patents never should have been granted in the first place,” Jaggar said. “There’s no question that DNA is a product of nature, and so it’s very affirming to see the court rule in our favor.”
BRCA1 and 2 mutations became international news when actress Angelina Jolie revealed that she’d had a preventive double mastectomy after testing showed that she had a specific mutation that put her at very high risk of developing breast cancer.
By Michelle Andrews for Kaiser Health News and NPR
Angelina Jolie’s decision to have a double mastectomy after genetic testing has prompted a discussion about which other tests should be covered. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
When it comes to inherited genetic mutations that increase the risk of breast cancer, BRCA1 and BRCA2 get nearly all the attention.
Inherited mutations in these genes cause from 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers as well as up to 15 percent of ovarian cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute.
There are other, rarer genetic mutations that also predispose women to breast cancer.
Other genes besides BRCA1 and BRCA2 may have mutations that predispose a woman to breast cancer.
Health insurers that cover BRCA-related testing and treatment without a hitch sometimes balk at providing coverage in these other instances. The predictive value of some of those variations isn’t always as strong or clear-cut.
When Angelie Jolie said earlier this month that she’d tested positive for a particularly harmful BRCA1 mutation and had a double mastectomy to substantially reduce her risk of getting breast cancer, she didn’t mention her insurance coverage. Continue reading