Angelina Jolie's Breast Cancer Gene Is At The centre Of A Huge Patent Dispute At The US Supreme Court

AP ImagesThe so-called “breast cancer gene” that spurred Angelina Jolie to get a preventative double mastectomy is also at the centre of a huge patent dispute in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jolie carries a gene called BRCA1, which dramatically increases a woman’s risk for developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

As strange as it might sound, Utah biotech company Myriad Genetics owns the patent to BRCA1 and another so-called isolated gene that carries similar risks called BRCA2. (Gene patents give companies a monopoly on testing for those genes.)

Cancer groups have gone to the Supreme Court to try to invalidate those patents. The advocates say big biotech shouldn’t be able to patent nature.

The main problem with letting Myriad hold onto those patents is that other scientists might be able to come up with better — and cheaper — tests for those genes, Joseph Stiglitz has written in Slate.

By making these tests less widely available than they could be, Myriad is arguably preventing some women from knowing they have increased cancer risks and taking preventative measures similar to Jolie’s.

Indeed, the Supreme Court seemed sceptical during arguments in April that Myriad should be allowed to hold onto its gene patents.

“You haven’t created a type of gene that does not exist in the body,” Justice Antonin Scalia told a lawyer for Myriad, which has yet to get a decision in the case.

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