Posted by: Joelle Burnette | June 14, 2013

Supreme Court’s unanimous BRCA decision

supreme-court-buildingToday was a happy day for anyone who needs to be genetically tested to determine their BRCA status. The Supreme Court unanimously decided, Myriad Genetics cannot hold the patents on the BRCA genes. This decision serves as a massive step in the right direction in terms of making the currently expensive test ($3,000 or greater) available to more people as more companies jump in the BRCA genetics game. The hope is that the price will drop as more genetics research companies compete and lower the price.

Wooohooo! Yes, I’ve been jumping for joy. Hanging onto such a life-altering test the past two decades was a greedy, corporate move serving only to stick it to the people who can’t afford the test; the people who can’t afford to not know the results. How greedy are the corporate raiders at Myriad? In one of today’s stories about the Utah company, the New York Times reported, BRCA testing “accounted for about $132 million of Myriad’s $156 million in revenue in the most recent quarter.” As my mom just said, these modern robber barons are “a bunch of pricks.” Especially when you consider, the people they are price gouging are those who are at highest risk of getting cancer.

On a positive note, once again, I must offer thanks to Angelina Jolie who helped bring this issue into the bright, shining light of day as the issue faced the glaring blaze of lady justice and her glorious balance. Moreover, I know there have been many people, doctors, cancer-prevention advocates, and more people involved in this issue, and to all of them, I offer my thanks. None of those people may ever read this note, but I’m sending my thanks off into the universe, regardless.

According to a story about the significant decision as reported in today’s New York Times, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court, “Myriad did not create anything. To be sure, it found an important and useful gene, but separating that gene from its surrounding genetic material is not an act of invention.”

Thomas wrote, “A naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated. It is undisputed that Myriad did not create or alter any of the genetic information encoded in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.”

“Groundbreaking, innovative or even brilliant discovery does not by itself satisfy the criteria” for patent eligibility, he said, revealed the NYT story.

Read the entire story by clicking here.

So, now what? If the genetic testing prices drop as predicted, more people will have access to the BRCA test. I encourage anyone with family history of breast and/or ovarian cancers to find a reputable genetic counselor who can help them through the process. A couple of good places to start include visiting the following:

  • FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered):
  • Sharsheret (focussing on the Jewish community; 1-in-40 Jews test BRCA positive):

You may want to speak with your physician about this issue, but you’ll want to speak with someone familiar with this gene. Personally, I used the genetic counseling services at UCSF (where I had my prophylactic surgeries performed), but there are more genetic counseling services across the nation and beyond. If you would like to read about my genetic counseling and BRCA experience, please read my book Cancer Time Bomb: How the BRCA Gene Stole My Tits and Eggs. Visit my book website at for more information, and please “Like” my Facebook page at CancerTimeBomb.

Thanks for reading!


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