Geneticist who discovered breast-cancer gene elated over Supreme Court decision
The Supreme Court came to a landmark decision on Thursday ruling that the discovery of gene sequences is not patentable. This ruling has sparked much debate and controversy but for those who are on the front lines of research, this is a decision that was long overdue and necessary.
“The Supreme Court ruling is splendid for patients, their families, their physicians, scientists and common sense,” Mary-Claire King, the geneticist who discovered the breast-cancer genes said in an email on Thursday.
Colleagues of King’s at the University of Washington shared her elation that the practice of patenting human genes has come to an end. Head of Medical Genetics, Gail Jarvik said that exclusive rights to genetic material have disadvantaged research and forced patients to rely on a limited number of expensive commercial tests. Patients now can get a more sensitive and comprehensive types of screening tests developed by medical researchers like King.
It was while King was working at the University of California, Berkeley that she discovered the first breast-cancer genes and identified them to a specific chromosome. But scientists at the University of Utah patented them and formed Myriad Genetics, the firm whose patents were at heart of this court case, to market the tests. The company also controls large quantities of testing data, which could be very useful to scientists working in cancer research. As soon as the ruling was issued, several companies publicized the availability of new genetic screens that are cheaper than those produced by Myriad.
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