For Immediate Release
ACLU Asks Supreme Court to Invalidate Patents on Breast Cancer Genes
WASHINGTON - The American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation today asked the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate patents for two genes associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer that allow a Utah company to control access to crucial genetic tests that could lead to life-saving treatment.
A federal district court previously had invalidated all of the challenged patents. In August, a federal appeals court ruled for the second time that companies can obtain patents on the genes. Its 2-1 ruling followed a Supreme Court order directing the appeals court to reconsider its initial decision in light of a related patent case decided by the court last spring.
The lawsuit against Myriad Genetics and the University of Utah Research Foundation, which hold the patents on the genes, charges that the challenged patents are illegal and restrict both scientific research and patients’ access to medical care. The patents granted to Myriad give the company the exclusive right to perform tests on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. The restrictions can have devastating results.
Kathleen Maxian of Buffalo, N.Y. is suffering from late-stage ovarian cancer that she believes could have been prevented. Her sister, who is a breast-cancer survivor, obtained a test from Myriad that did not look for all known genetic mutations associated with cancer and was told she was negative for mutations. Years later, her sister learned through a more comprehensive set of tests that she did, in fact, have a BRCA genetic mutation -- information that Maxian could have relied on to seek preventive surgery.
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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.