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News Link • Healthcare Industry

Cancer Patients Challenge the Patenting of a Gene

Published: May 12, 2009

When Genae Girard received a diagnosis of breast cancer in 2006, she knew she would be facing medical challenges and high expenses. But she did not expect to run into patent problems.

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Benjamin Sklar for The New York Times

Genae Girard, 39, is suing Myriad Genetics and the Patent Office over the granting of a patent on a gene. Myriad also has patented the only test that measures the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Ms. Girard took a genetic test to see if her genes also put her at increased risk for ovarian cancer, which might require the removal of her ovaries. The test came back positive, so she wanted a second opinion from another test. But there can be no second opinion. A decision by the government more than 10 years ago allowed a single company, Myriad Genetics, to own the patent on two genes that are closely associated with increased risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer, and on the testing that measures that risk.

On Tuesday, Ms. Girard, 39, who lives in the Austin, Tex., area, filed a lawsuit against Myriad and the Patent Office, challenging the decision to grant a patent on a gene to Myriad and companies like it. She was joined by four other cancer patients, by professional organizations of pathologists with more than 100,000 members and by several individual pathologists and genetic researchers. 

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