Myriad and Second Opinions

I’ve discussed before how awful it is that Myriad Genetics has patented the ability to use the BRCA genes to test for high risk of breast cancer. That said, Rose-Ellen Lessy raises a good point I haven’t seen discussed much elsewhere (boldface mine):

Implicitly pitted against the issue of investment incentive are the rights not just of scientists, but also of individual women. Not only are uninsured and lower income women particularly vulnerable to Myriad’s monopoly, so are women of color. This is because, for some women, Myriad is unable to provide a clear yes or no answer, and instead returns a result that the woman’s BRCA gene has a “variant of unknown significance.” This means that a woman may—or may not—be at high risk for breast and ovarian cancer, a result that can be deeply confusing for patients and their doctors. Variants of unknown significance have been especially problematic for black, Latino and Asian women, who are disproportionately likely to get these ambiguous test results, and to thus have a more difficult time getting the information they need to make crucial treatment decisions. Because of Myriad’s patent, women have been unable to get second opinions about ambiguous test results from other labs, and other labs, in turn, have been unable to work on developing more definitive tests.

The only good news in all of this is that Myriad’s patent expires in 2015. Hopefully, the Supreme Court won’t be idiots when deciding this case, and legalize a whole new crop of Myriads….

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1 Response to Myriad and Second Opinions

  1. Don Atkinson says:

    The test results are not ambiguous. That “T” is a “T”, the only problem is we don’t know what a “T” at that location does, if anything. You can’t expect Myriad or any other group to have complete knowledge of the implications of every possible base pair change that might be found when screening tens of thousands of people. That is true of every gene, patented or not.

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