U.S. patent stops breast cancer testing
From the article:
A key breast cancer test can no longer be done in B.C. [British Columbia] because an American company has the gene patent.
Utah-based Myriad Genetics Inc. has put a patent on two genes that can signal whether a woman may develop hereditary breast cancer.
Dr. Simon Sutcliffe, who runs the B.C. Cancer Agency, said 200 of the tests are now being routed annually to Ontario, which is ignoring the patent.
The agency used to do its own tests until the B.C. government recently ordered it to stop after legal threats by Myriad.
Myriad now wants $3,500 US for the blood test, three times what it used to cost the province.
And there's nothing B.C. cancer patients can do, other than paying for the test out-of-pocket.
"The price, then, can really be held to any blackmail you wish," said Sutcliffe yesterday. "Whatever they set the price at. It could be a factor of 10 or a factor of 50."
Myriad's gene patent gives it control over all research using those genes.
Barbara Kaminsky, CEO of the Canadian Cancer Society in B.C., is concerned that private companies can own genes.
"What we're seeing now is the tip of the iceberg," she said.
"If this one is not dealt with, we can only, unfortunately, anticipate more to come."
Kaminsky is critical of the B.C. government for
suspending the tests here while other provinces are carrying on.
"We're extremely disappointed," she said. "It's intolerable from the point of view of cancer patients."
She said women may have had their breasts removed needlessly because these tests were not available.
"Now we have the tests, and to deny women access based on cost is just so inappropriate," she said.
About 10 per cent of cancer patients have a hereditary form of the disease.
Myriad also holds monopoly gene patents for ovarian, colon and prostate cancers, among the 99 it currently holds.
Nearly 10,000 patents relating to the human body have been filed worldwide.
Health Services Minister Colin Hansen said the genetic tests were stopped here on legal advice.
"There is maybe merit in patenting the applications of how we use gene sequencing, but to actually patent the sequence is something I certainly have great difficulty with," he said.
Paying Myriad for the screenings is not going to happen, said Hansen.
"We certainly want to make as broad a range of services available to the public. But we also have to make sure we can afford it," he said.
In 1998, breast cancer survivor Susan Harris of Vancouver tested negative before the genes were patented.
"It's an incredibly important test, because it's knowledge I can share with my family," said the 54-year-old researcher.
She called the Myriad patent "reprehensible."
"It's part of a person's body, their being. It's not a machine. This precedent is very, very unsettling."