Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

Gene Patents and Healthcare Inequality

Although the Supreme Court case involving Myriad Genetics' gene patents may seem like "scientific arcana," it was actually a contest about how biomedical intellectual property can lead to inequalities in the healthcare system, economist Joseph Stiglitz writes in the New York Times.

The core question before the court was a "seemingly technical" one about whether isolated, naturally occurring genes can be patented under US law, Stiglitz says, but these patents had "devastating real-world implications, because they kept the prices for diagnostics artificially high."

He writes that the $4,000 cost of the Mryiad BRACAnalysis test was far too high, and prohibited some women from accessing this important genetic information and from getting second opinions.

Stiglitz, who filed a declaration with the court on behalf of the Association for Molecular Pathology's argument, says that two women were denied the test because their Medicaid insurance reimbursement was too low, and other women were forced to make difficult decisions about having prophylactic mastectomies or having their ovaries removed "with severely incomplete information" and without second opinions.

Within hours of the court's ruling last month, he notes, a group of universities, patient advocates, researchers, and other labs announced that they plan to begin offering tests for BRCA genes, he notes, adding that Myriad's "innovation" was to identify existing genes, and not developing the test for them.

Stiglitz thinks that the "good news" out of the Myriad decision was the foundational decision that genes cannot be patented, because it meant that "there could now be competition to develop better, more accurate, less expensive tests for the gene," and that "poor women would have a more equal chance to live – in this case, to conquer breast cancer."

The Scan

Fertility Fraud Found

Consumer genetic testing has uncovered cases of fertility fraud that are leading to lawsuits, according to USA Today.

Ties Between Vigorous Exercise, ALS in Genetically At-Risk People

Regular strenuous exercise could contribute to motor neuron disease development among those already at genetic risk, Sky News reports.

Test Warning

The Guardian writes that the US regulators have warned against using a rapid COVID-19 test that is a key part of mass testing in the UK.

Science Papers Examine Feedback Mechanism Affecting Xist, Continuous Health Monitoring for Precision Medicine

In Science this week: analysis of cis confinement of the X-inactive specific transcript, and more.