Felicia Marie Knaul
Two events this week will cover global challenges to cancer care and the need for expanded access to care in low-and middle-income countries. Speakers at both events – a book launch tomorrow, June 18, and a community lecture on Wednesday, June 19 – include author and Director of the Harvard Global Equity Initiative Felicia Marie Knaul, HRH Princess Dina Mired of Jordan, Harvard School of Public Health Dean Dr. Julio Frenk, and SCCA Director of Breast Medical Oncology Dr. Julie Gralow.
Tomorrow, June 18, Felicia Marie Knaul will speak at the launch of her book “Beauty without the Breast.” The book is a personal testimony of life with cancer, an account of treatment received in Mexico and at SCCA, and a call to action for expanded access to care in low-and middle-income countries. The book includes forewords by Paul Farmer and Dr. Julie Gralow, and an epilogue by Dr. Julio Frenk. Tomorrow’s event will take place from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (FHCRC) Arnold Building, Room M1 A303. The event will be hosted by SCCA, in partnership with the University of Washington, FHCRC, the Harvard Global Equity Initiative, and the Global Task Force on Expanded Access to Cancer Care and Control in Developing Countries.
A Jill Bennett Academic Community Lecture on Wednesday, June 19, titled “Closing the Cancer Divide: The Global Challenge” will take place at FHCRC’s Pelton Auditorium from noon to 1p.m. The lectureship pays tribute to Jill Bennett, who passed away at a young age from breast cancer, and was established to bring scholars from the fields of breast cancer care, research, and training to Seattle. This preview of the inaugural lectureship is open to the academic cancer community. Please RSVP to Katie Fitzmaurice at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yesterday the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that human genes may not be patented. The case involved Myriad Genetics and the patents it held on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. The patents gave Myriad exclusive access to these genes, including the diagnostic test that determined whether someone carried the mutated versions of these genes, which indicates a higher risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.
Here’s a sampling of how the decision is being received in the research community and beyond, starting with the woman who first discovered the BRCA1 gene in 1990, Mary-Claire King:
Dr. Mary-Claire King
Today the Supreme Court unanimously decided to invalidate patents for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. This decision is a victory for cancer patients and their families, particularly for patients with breast or ovarian cancer. Testing for mutations in these genes can save lives, but under previous patent law clinical testing in the U.S. could only be performed by one company. This monopoly led to high costs, which prevented some patients from being tested, and inhibited scientific progress, medical education and innovation. As of today, BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene testing is open to all labs in the U.S. We are very optimistic that market competition will rapidly drive down test costs, expand access to testing, make testing more comprehensive, and further scientific discovery.
Genes are the blueprint of all living things, and are fundamentally anatomy or “products of nature” in the same way as our heart, liver, or brain. Through its landmark decision the Supreme Court has recognized that genes are part of our bodies, and our bodies should not be owned by private companies.
Dr. Colin Pritchard is Assistant Professor, Laboratory Medicine and Associate Director of The Clinical Molecular Genetics Laboratory at University Washington Medicine. He also oversees UW-OncoPlex, a multi-marker cancer-sequencing test.
The state employee’s health care plan does not currently cover screening mammograms for women under 40 years old – even those in the high-risk category for breast cancer. But, thanks to a 36-year-old mother of two and a news reporter who drew attention to her story, this may soon change.
Yesterday, Jesse Jones at KING 5 News told the story of Joy Griffith, including an interview with SCCA’s Dr. Lehman about screening for women at high risk for breast cancer. Joy’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 46, so her doctor recommended she start screening early. Joy later found out her insurance, which is through the state employee’s plan, would not cover the mammogram. Washington state law says that a screening mammogram must be covered if a doctor recommends it, but the state employee’s plan is self-insured, so is not mandated to follow the law. Joy’s two appeals to the insurance company were denied, so she called Jesse.
Yesterday’s news story prompted the health care plan’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Daniel Lesser, to overturn the denial and cover Joy’s mammogram. In addition, he has called for a full review of the plan’s mammogram policy. Please click here to view Jesse’s original story about Joy. The follow-up story about the plan’s review of its current policy is here.
Timothy Ray Brown
“The way to change the impact of HIV is to eradicate it,” according to Dr. Keith Jerome, an associate member of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (FHCRC). On Wednesday, June 19, the first person in the world to be cured of HIV will be at the event From One to Many: The Cure Agenda for HIV/AIDS at Fred Hutch.
Timothy Ray Brown, the “Berlin Patient,” had HIV for years and later developed leukemia. A bone marrow transplant cured both his leukemia and his HIV, demonstrating that it is possible to cure HIV. defeatHIV, a consortium of investigators centered at FHCRC whose goal is to eradicate HIV, is hosting Wednesday’s event. The event starts at 6 p.m. at Seattle University’s Pigott Building, and will include a moderated panel discussion at 7 p.m. with Timothy Ray Brown and defeatHIV researchers. For more information about Wednesday’s event and defeatHIV, please visit the event website. Learn more about Timothy Ray Brown at ABC and NPR; both outlets ran stories about Brown and his treatment last summer.