U.S. Supreme Court

Angelina Jolie's op-ed on preventive mastectomy backs gene tests that are subject of SCOTUS case

Angelina Jolie’s decision to have a double mastectomy, explained in a New York Times op-ed, was due to a defect in the BRCA1 gene that greatly increased the actress’s risk for breast cancer.

Jolie wrote about her experience because she hoped that other women would also be able to get tested and learn about their options. She noted that the cost of testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 is more than $3,000 in the United States, “an obstacle for many women.”

Jolie wrote as the U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case originally filed by women who couldn’t afford the genetic tests by the company that holds the patents on the BRCA1 and BRCA 2 genes, Myriad Genetics. The Atlantic, USA Today and Philly.com’s PhillyPharma blog highlight the case, Association of Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics. At issue is whether isolated genes are “human-made inventions” that can be patented, or “products of nature” that may not be patented.

Myriad defends gene patents as economically necessary to spur research and development, the Atlantic says. “But how many more women—and men—might have been able over the past four years to afford BRCA1 or BRCA2 testing in the absence of those protective patents?” the publication asks.

According to the Atlantic, “It is more likely than not that the justices will uphold Myriad’s patent—its monopoly—over research for these genes.” The story suggests that Congress could amend patent law if it doesn’t like the result. Meanwhile, access to the tests will be increased under insurance provisions of the Obama administration’s health care law.

Related coverage:

ABA press release: “Isolated DNA Compounds May be Patentable, ABA States in Myriad Genetics Brief”

ABAJournal.com: “Resolution paves way for ABA amicus brief on broader issues in SCOTUS gene patenting case”

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