Huge news came in due to a US Supreme Court ruling on the fate of the BRCA genes in the medical industry. It ruled that human genes cannot be patented, which has far-reaching consequences. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) won this landmark victory against Myriad Genetics. Check out the ruling here.
I'm not going to cover the story here, because I have already done that in some detail here. That's a blog I have been a long-time contributor to. Here, I'm merely going complement that article and point out a few things.
What are BRCA genes?
BRCA are two genes actually - BRCA1 and BRCA2. BRCA1 is located on chromosome 17 and BRCA2 on chromosome 13. These two genes are present in almost all mammals and act as tumour suppressants. It is a widely believed misconception that certain genes in our genetic makeup are responsible for certain diseases. That is false - it is the mutations of these genes which lead to susceptibility to diseases.
The same is the case here. BRCA genes function to suppress the onset of breast cancer, but when they are mutated, their functions are heavily impaired.
Now, here is the bone of contention - BRCA genes, identified in 1990, were first isolated and cloned by, amongst few others, by Myriad Genetics. They control or own all the patents relating to detection and isolation of these genes. This has led the famous lawsuit, Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, which we are hearing the ruling for now. I will glibly turn you over to wikipedia here to read more about the history of the lawsuit.
With a patent out of the way, the costs for detection and treatment of breast cancer will decrease drastically! The reasons are not hard to find - it is merely that no one needs to pay royalty to Myriad and no one company (like Myriad here) has monopoly.
A great victory for humanity, if you ask me. I can easily go for a little less profit for large medical companies in exchange for a little more comfort for the afflicted!
Techie-buzz post on this issue: http://techie-buzz.com/science/no-patent-on-human-genes.html