From the ED: Historic Gene Patent Case and Rally at Supreme Court

karuna3By Karuna Jaggar, Executive Director

Every day, I talk to our members, donors, and partner organizations from across the country by phone and in person. It’s a favorite part of my job and a critical piece in my understanding of how our work matters for you. Recently my conversations have gotten particularly energetic when we turn to our lawsuit challenging Myriad Genetics’ patent on the human BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes, the so-called “breast cancer genes”.

On April 15th our case comes before the U.S. Supreme Court, which will consider the question: Are human genes patentable? I believe this is one of the most important and wide-reaching issues Breast Cancer Action has taken on.

In 2009 Breast Cancer Action filed suit in this landmark case against Myriad Genetics when no other breast cancer organization—many of whom need Pharma and Biotech friendship and funding—would touch it. Under our former executive director Barbara Brenner’s leadership, BCAction joined researchers, genetic counselors, and patients challenging Myriad’s patent on the BRCA genes because human gene patents create a barrier to progress on breast cancer and harm women’s health.

Myriad Genetics’ claim on our very DNA creates a profitable corporate monopoly for them, generating approximately half a billion dollars a year in revenue. In the last fiscal quarter alone, Myriad made $126 million off genetic testing for breast cancer—a full 85% of their total revenue.

Rally Against Human Gene PatentsBut while Myriad is making billions, human gene patents stifle desperately needed research and innovation in breast cancer, and create real harm for women at risk of and living with breast cancer. We cannot afford to let corporate profits come before patients. Not when nearly a quarter of a million women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. Not when around 40,000 women will die in the coming year.

Everyone I talk to is initially shocked and puzzled to learn that one company, Myriad Genetics, holds a patent on human genes. How can a corporation claim to own a naturally occurring part of your and my essential genetic code?

I believe they can’t. And I am proud to stand with you, partner organizations, and women’s health activists in taking a stand to outlaw human gene patents. On April 15th, while the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments, many of you from across the country will be joining Breast Cancer Action for a rally to outlaw human gene patents on the steps of the Supreme Court.

It has been fun to receive the excited texts, tweets, and emails rolling in day and night from members, donors, and partners who are lending their time, money, and voices to this critical issue. I am looking forward to standing shoulder to shoulder with many of you who will join us on the steps of the Supreme Court. I’m also energized by the many ways those of you who can’t join us in DC are showing your support: spreading the word, writing blogs and op-eds, and donating to support this work.

BCAction has been working for five years for this moment to take a stand against corporate control over our genes, our health, and our futures. Thank you for standing with us, and all they ways you are taking action on this critical women’s health issue.

Get involved! Click here to learn how you can take action and support this work, whether or not you can make it to the rally on April 15th.

And hear directly from one of our lawyers at the ACLU in this issue of The Source.

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