Breast Cancer Action Case Challenging Human Gene Patents: U.S. Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments

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April 15, 2013

Contact: Angela Wall, Communications Manager (415) 243-9301 x16

Breast Cancer Action Case Challenging Human Gene Patents: U.S. Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA—Oral arguments in the human gene patent lawsuit brought by Breast Cancer Action (BCAction) are today being heard by the Supreme Court. BCAction, the national watchdog of the breast cancer movement is a plaintiff in this landmark case challenging Myriad Genetics’ patents on the human BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, known as the “breast cancer genes.” During the hearing, BCAction members from across the country and partner organizations are rallying outside the Court calling to outlaw human gene patents.

Myriad Genetics’ patents on the human BRCA1&2 genes are sweeping, and cover the gene sequences and all variations, mutations and rearrangements of these human genes. These patents allow Myriad to control—and in many cases block—all uses of the human “breast cancer genes,” including development of diagnostics, therapies, drug development involving either of the human BRCA1& 2 genes.

Information about common mutations on these genes can be potentially lifesaving for women who learn they have an increased risk of cancer. The test offered by Myriad is the only commercially available test in the U.S. and currently not enough women can get access to important information about their genes and cancer risk because the test is expensive (over $3,000), provides incomplete information on some mutations, and Myriad’s patent monopoly prohibits access to second opinions.

With this case, BCAction seeks to remove a barrier that harms women living with and at risk of breast cancer and to set a critical legal precedent: corporations cannot own human genes. Karuna Jaggar, Breast Cancer Action’s executive director said: “At a time when we desperately need new insights into cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, the human BRCA1&2 patents block vital scientific research and medical care connected to breast and ovarian cancer.”

Jaggar stated: “It is ironic that on the cusp of a revolution in personalized medicine, in which doctors can customize treatment based on an individual’s genetic information, we see one company controlling access to the human ‘breast cancer genes.’”

Myriad Genetics’ patents mean that they are the gatekeeper for research involving the human BRCA genes: Myriad controls who can do what research involving these genes. “Myriad’s patents block doctors’ and researchers’ access to the human ‘breast cancer genes’ and harm women’s health,” said Jaggar. “Instead of leading to promissed breakthroughs in women’s health, the privatization of the human BRCA1&2 genes has created a critical barrier to addressing and ending the breast cancer epidemic.”

The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation, challenges the legality of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s practice of granting patents on human genes.

The case is Association for Molecular Pathology, et al. v. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, et al.


Breast Cancer Action (—a national non-profit education and advocacy organization refuses to accept funding from pharmaceutical companies or any other organizations that profit from or contribute to the breast cancer epidemic.

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