From the Executive Director: Our Landmark Victory at the Supreme Court

karuna3By Karuna Jaggar, Executive Director

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that patents on all DNA are invalid. With your support, we won. And we won big.

On June 13th, in an historic ruling in favor of Breast Cancer Action and our co-plaintiffs, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Myriad Genetics’ patents on the BRCA1 &2 genes, often simply referred to as the “breast cancer genes.” In the landmark case Association of Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, the Court for the first time ruled on the question of whether human genes are patentable. With this ruling, the Supreme Court not only invalidated one company’s patents on human genes, the Court ruled that genetic DNA is a product of nature and is not patent eligible: that means no more patenting of human DNA, as well as no more patenting of naturally occurring plant or animal DNA.

The sweeping decision to overturn gene patents is a major rollback of corporate control of our health and creates an immediate and tangible benefit for women with a known or suspected inherited risk of breast cancer.

Here’s what it means for you and me and anyone living with or at risk of breast cancer:

1. Women, and men, concerned about hereditary risk of breast and other cancers now have improved access to genetic testing. The same day the Supreme Court issued its ruling at least 5 companies announced they would offer BRCA testing at a fraction of Myriad’s BRACAnalysis test. Women who could not afford the $3,000-4,000 dollars for Myriad’s test or whose insurance did not have a contract with Myriad, will now have lower-cost options.

2. For the first time, women who are considering their medical options will have access to second opinions. Myriad’s test has never been peer-reviewed and the FDA does not regulate genetic tests. Second opinion testing is particularly important for women considering removing healthy organs to reduce the risk of cancer as well as for women who have received an ambiguous result from Myriad’s test.

3. All labs, clinics, researchers and doctors now have access to the human BRCA genes, opening the door to research and studies in new areas that may lead to clinical advances in diagnosis, risk reduction, and treatment in breast and other cancers.

4. Research and treatment for all hereditary diseases can now advance without fear of patent infringement. This sweeping ruling ensures that the fundamental building blocks of life, our DNA, are available for scientific and medical inquiry and advance.

The Supreme Court’s ruling represents a milestone in medicine and science. This tremendous win is a testament to the power of collective action and evidence that we can triumph against the odds. BCAction joined this suit as a plaintiff because as a watchdog organization seeing the all too real harms caused by the BRCA patents, we knew we needed to take a stand against the privatization of our genes.

While many have heralded this ruling as common sense, we must be careful not to re-write history. This case was once viewed as meritless and “frivolous.” At a time when no other breast cancer organization joined the suit, former BCAction Executive Director Barbara Brenner had the prescience to join with genetic counselors, researchers, and individual patients in a landmark case challenging human gene patents. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had the foresight to bring this case and the talent and brilliance to win. We couldn’t have done it without them. And we couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you.

Together, with our partners and members, we have achieved deep, lasting systemic change that many thought was impossible when we first brought the case. Change of this magnitude takes collective action; it takes a deep commitment from many people, over many years, in many ways. I’m all too aware that as we raise a cup to salute the significant impact this huge win will have on the lives of people everywhere, so many of those who helped get us to this place aren’t here to share the moment. I am so deeply grateful to them all.

This issue of The Source is choc full of information about the gene patent case as well as other areas of our work. You can read more about the ruling in our press release, recent blog looking more deeply at the ruling, and our recent webinar.

We are celebrating a major win. But our work is not over. We have so much more to do. Your support makes this win—and all our future wins—possible. Thank you for enableing us to go toe-to-toe with industry, whenever the world needs a breast cancer watchdog.

We are so proud to stand with you. We are so proud to be part of your community.

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