In a victory for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that human genes cannot be subject to patents. Specifically, this decision ends the monopoly of Myriad Genetics Inc. on BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene testing. Women with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations are at high risk for developing ovarian or breast cancer.
Researchers in the biotechnology industry welcomed the ruling as a step in the right direction for innovation. Although it may seem obvious that genetic material should not be the subject of patents, Myriad was the exclusive provider of BRCA1 and BRCA2 testing prior to the ruling.
Researchers believe that the elimination of gene patenting will result in more available and more affordable genetic testing. Currently, BRCA1 and BRCA2 analysis would cost around $4,000, limiting its access to those who have the means to pay the hefty price tag.
Last month, Angelina Jolie became the first high-profile actress to discuss her gene screening and subsequent double mastectomy. Her piece in the New York Times drew national attention to the high cost of testing. In support of wider availability, Jolie writes, “It has to be a priority to ensure that more women can access gene testing and lifesaving preventative treatment, whatever their means and background, wherever they live.”
And the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down gene patents is certainly a step in the right direction.
Serena Yin graduated with a degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. She is joining the Washington Reading Corps to promote literacy in local schools. A New England native, she loves ballet, beaches, and hamburgers. When she’s not on the hunt for the nearest Starbucks, she’s working on realizing her lifelong dream of meeting J.K. Rowling.