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Gathering the Variants

While the US Supreme Court struck down Myriad Genetics' BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene patents in June, the University of California, San Francisco's Robert Nussbaum writes at Technology Review that monopolies on genetic data are still possible.

During the time that Myriad held those patents and a monopoly on testing those genes, the company was able to build up a database of the genetic variants it uncovered in the patients it tested, he says. This trove of information is the intellectual property of Myriad, adds Nussbaum, who was an expert for the American Civil Liberties Union for its case against Myriad.

He argues that such a database makes it more difficult for patients to receive second opinions and confirm what their results mean. "That can't happen if Myriad — or any other company — is the only one with data on the variants of a gene that exist and their associations," he writes at Tech Review.

Efforts to create other databases are underway, including one headed by Nussbaum called Sharing Clinical Reports. As Pharmacogenomics Reporter's Turna Ray wrote last month, Sharing Clinical Reports and its Free the Data! offshoot are urging patients and clinicians to submit data from BRCA test reports to ClinVar, the open database housed by the US National Center for Biotechnology Information.