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Discrimination fears over breast cancer test

23 May 2005
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 309

Some Jewish women could face discrimination over access to tests for hereditary breast cancer, the Scientist magazine reports. Geneticists at a meeting held last week said that changes made to a patent relating to the BRCA2 gene, owned by US firm Myriad Genetics, could mean that women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent might not be able to get tested in some countries. Researchers attending the European Society for Human Genetics meeting in Prague told the Scientist that Myriad has limited its claims for the patent, ahead of a challenge to be heard by the European Patent Office (EPO).

Most breast and ovarian cancers are not inherited, but around 5-10 per cent are caused by inherited mutations - many of them in one of two genes, called BRCA1 and BRCA2. Myriad Genetics has faced criticism from scientists, governments and patient groups opposed to the patents it holds on tests that look for mutations in these two genes. There were concerns that the patents were too restrictive, and could give Myriad a monopoly on BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic testing. The company required that all tests were to be carried out in its laboratories in Salt Lake City, Utah at a cost of over $2600.

Myriad originally filed several patents relating to the BRCA1 gene, three of them in Europe. However, the EPO revoked one of these patents entirely in May 2004, and cut the scope of the remaining two in January 2005. An earlier ruling granted a Europe-wide patent for a BRCA2 gene test to Cancer Research UK (CRUK). The charity grants free licences to European laboratories that want to use the test, unlike Myriad. However, the current legal situation regarding the two BRCA2 patents is unclear, and a group of scientists will argue that Myriad was wrongfully awarded the patent, in a challenge due to be heard by the EPO on 29 June.

Now, Myraid has changed the wording of its BRCA2 patent, so that it only covers one gene mutation, which occurs most frequently in Ashkenazi Jews. 'This is definitely not the way to go', said geneticist Geert-Jan van Ommen, 'because on the one hand, you would have to ask patients who come into your clinic and want to be tested if they are Ashkenazi Jews. And then if they are, it would block them from being diagnosed in countries that tend not to pay serious licences for the diagnosis'. In the forthcoming hearing, the Belgian Society of Human Genetics and the French Institut Curie will argue that there is no way to define when a woman is Ashkenazi Jewish, and that a patent should not be granted on one population and not another.

Concern over BRCA2 patent
The Scientist |  16 May 2005
8 September 2014 - by Dr Charlotte Warren-Gash 
All Ashkenazi Jewish women should be screened for high-cancer-risk genetic mutations) from age 30, say scientists behind a study looking at that population....
28 May 2012 - by Dr Jessica Mozersky 
Ashkenazi Jews have historically been an endogamous population. Marrying within the group remains important to many Jews because endogamy is seen as one way to preserve Judaism and ensure the survival of future generations. In the wake of the Holocaust, and amidst a steadily decreasing Jewish population, Jewish survival has great cultural relevance...
24 September 2007 - by Ailsa Stevens 
On 10 September the US genetic testing company 'Myriad Genetics' launched an advertising campaign aimed at prompting women who have a family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer to discuss genetic testing options with their doctor. The company owns exclusive rights to the sale of a...
14 October 2005 - by BioNews 
Nearly a fifth of all known human genes have been patented in the US, the majority by private companies, a new study reveals. The research, published in the journal Science, matched patented genes to their locations in the human genome. It showed that almost 4382 of the 23,688 genes present...
30 June 2005 - by BioNews 
The latest challenge to a patent held by US firm Myriad Genetics on a test for hereditary breast cancer has failed. The European patent Office (EPO) ruled on 29 June that European patent EP 785216, which relates to the BRCA2 gene, is to be maintained in its amended form. The...
28 January 2005 - by BioNews 
The European Patent Office (EPO) has taken another step towards preventing US firm Myriad Genetics from obtaining a monopoly on genetic tests for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. Myriad originally filed several patents relating to the BRCA1 gene, three of them in Europe. However, the EPO revoked one of these...
21 May 2004 - by BioNews 
The European Patent Office (EPO) has revoked a patent held by US firm Myriad Genetics, on a genetic test for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. The ruling means that the company can no longer charge European laboratories for performing the test, which detects alterations in the BRCA1 gene. It follows...
23 February 2004 - by BioNews 
The charity Cancer Research UK (CRUK) has obtained a Europe-wide patent on the BRCA2 gene, which is involved in hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. It intends to make the patent freely available to publicly-funded laboratories across the continent, so that research and diagnostic work on the gene can continue. The...
28 October 2002 - by BioNews 
A Maltese biotechnology firm claims it has identified a loophole in the controversial patents on two genetic tests for breast cancer held by US company Myriad Genetics. Synergene says that the patents do not apply in Malta, as the country has not signed the European Patent Convention. It plans to...
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