Should companies be able to patent human genes? The Supreme Court answered that profound question with a resounding “NO.”
Seems like common sense, right? But over the last 30 years, the U.S. Patent Office has issued patents on thousands of human genes, including genes associated with colon cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, muscular dystrophy, and many other devastating diseases. The status quo meant that companies controlling gene patents had the right to stop all other scientists from examining, studying, testing, and researching our genes.
The case before the Court involved patents on two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, controlled by a Utah-based company named Myriad Genetics. We all have these genes, but people with certain mutations are at much higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer. It is therefore crucial for some people to have their genes tested in order to make informed medical decisions (as Angelina Jolie described in herrecent op-ed). But the patents on the genes allowed Myriad to exercise a monopoly, dictating what types of testing were offered, at what cost, and the availability of second opinions.
Sandra S. Park, ACLU Women’s Rights Project