On the heels of Angelina Jolie's revelation that she underwent a preventive double mastectomy, a Navigenics founder is taking aim at Myriad Genetics' price for its BRACAnalysis test.
In an op-ed piece appearing in the New York Times, David Agus also calls for legislative changes to bar healthcare companies from having monopolies on technologies that have life and death implications.
In addition to being one of the founders of consumer genetics testing firm Navigenics, which is now part of Life Technologies, Agus is a professor of medicine and engineering at the University of Southern California.
In his op-ed, Agus compares the nearly $4,000 charged by Myriad for BRACAnalysis to other tests and procedures — including the sequencing of a person's genes for about $1,000; 23andMe's $99 test, which can detect a variety of diseases such as Tay-Sachs, cystic fibrosis, and sickle cell; and DNA tests for human papillomavirus that cost less than $100 — and says that the reason for BRACAnalysis' high price is that there's nothing to stop Myriad from charging as it pleases.
While Myriad says that the average patient who has health insurance pays about $100 or less out of pocket for the BRCA test, Agus points out that, ultimately, consumers pay for the high cost of BRACAnalysis in the form of higher insurance premiums, co-payments, deductibles, and taxes.
"I'm all for innovation and the right to protect intellectual property, but when there is a clear monopoly and human lives are at stake, we need legislative action for rational and appropriate pricing," Agus argues. "We don’t make vaccines prohibitively expensive so only the rich can protect themselves. Nor should we let other preventive measures that can save thousands of lives be priced at levels far above what normal 'market conditions' would suggest."
He highlights an idea from Dana Goldman, a health economist at USC, to allow technologies to be licensed and made available to the masses. Under such a model, Agus says, an insurance company can pay for the IP around a diagnostic test, buy a license "on behalf of customers (you and me), and then make sure as many at-risk individuals as possible were tested."
Myriad's patents around the BRCA genes are the subject of a lawsuit filed in 2009 by the American Civil Liberties Union and others, as GenomeWeb Daily News reported at the time. The US Supreme Court last month heard oral arguments for the case and is expected to render a decision in late June.