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.