The lawsuit came after Pathway's launch of their saliva-based BRCATrue test, which screens for mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that are associated with a heightened risk of developing breast, ovarian and other cancers.
For several years, Myriad held patents on the BRCA genes, effectively barring other companies from producing rival tests. However, last year the US Supreme Court ruled that natural human DNA could not be patented, invalidating Myriad's claim (reported in BioNews 709).
Myriad retains many other patents on its test technology and its intellectual property portfolio can be difficult for rivals to negotiate. In March this year, for example, Myriad tried and failed to obtain a preliminary injunction to prevent a competitor, Ambry Genetics, from offering BRCA-related genetic testing products (see BioNews 746).
'Given [Myriad's] pattern of filing lawsuits against other companies broadening access to this life-saving technology in clear disregard of the Supreme Court's decision last year, this lawsuit is not unexpected', Jim Plante, the CEO of Pathway Genomics, said.
Plante argues that, by charging less than half the cost of Myriad's equivalent test and offering free screening to some women who are unable to pay for it, their aim is to make genetic testing 'more accessible and affordable'.
'Every person should have access to vital information about their own body', Plante contends in a press release subtitled 'Pathway defends the rights of all women to receive BRCA testing'.
In response, Ron Rogers, a spokesperson for Myriad, told The Scientist that his firm's infringement suit relates to patents the company holds on synthetic DNA and the method of genetic screening, not those that were disallowed last year. The current litigation is 'completely unrelated to the Supreme Court case', he said.
He added that Myriad's own Financial Assistance Program provides uninsured women with free BRCAnalysis testing.
As co-patent holders, the following organisations are also suing Pathway: The University of Utah; University of Pennsylvania, The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, and Endorecherche, a company based in Quebec.
The Progress Educational Trust is organising a free public event in central London on the evening of Thursday 3 July, entitled 'Breast Cancer Risk: Facts, Fictions and the Future'.