Today’s Supreme Court ruling is good news for women’s health

(Credit: CBS News)

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that companies cannot patent human DNA. The case, Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myraid Genetics, centered on two genes, mutations of which increase women’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Myraid contended that because it had isolated the genes, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2, it had the right to be the only party able to analyze and test them – in effect, patenting women’s genes as if it invented them.

Not so, said the Court. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote, “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.  Groundbreaking, innovative, or even brilliant discovery does not by itself satisfy the [patent law] inquiry.”

Mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 can increase the risk of ovarian cancer by almost 60%. Testing early on for mutations in these genes is a great way for women to prevent ovarian cancer. However, under Myraid, these tests cost around $3,300. Though today’s ruling was relatively narrow – the door is still open on other types of genetic patenting – it will certainly lower costs.

Actress Angelina Jolie, who can afford the test, recently had a double mastectomy because she found mutations in her BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. It’s these types of early and precautionary measures that can help a countless number of women and lower health care costs.