Threat to breast cancer testing after controversial patent ruling

Warning that American company's victory could make procedure more expensive

Testing for breast cancer could become more difficult and expensive to carry out following a controversial ruling by the European Patent Office that has given an American company rights over a key test for breast cancer.

In a long-running dispute over a test based on the breast cancer gene BRCA1, the European Patent Office ruled in favour of giving Myriad Genetics intellectual property rights over its test for some of the genetic mutations that can lead to breast cancer.

Although the ruling has not given Myriad all the rights it originally applied for, senior clinical geneticists believe that the decision may allow the company to claim royalties for tests developed by other scientists – and as a result lead to fewer tests.

"The fact is these tests are being done and I would very much regret it if they stopped because Myriad put cease-and-desist orders on them. They could do that. We've always been looking over our shoulders to see if Myriad is coming," said Dr Rob Elles, chairman of the British Society for Human Genetics.

About 13 per cent of women develop breast cancer but if they have inherited a faulty version of the BRCA1 gene their risk can jump to 85 per cent.

If women test positive for a BRCA1 mutation they can be offered prophylactic surgery to remove the breast tissue that is at risk A negative result usually means they have a normal risk of breast cancer.

The patent office's ruling has given Myriad rights over two mutations that are frequently detected in Ashkenazi Jews, which means that any genetics centre that uses the BRCA1 test – even if it developed its own test – will have to take this into consideration.

Professor Gert Matthijs, a human geneticist at the University of Leuven in Belgium, said that the ruling means that Myriad could in principle claim infringement of its patent even if a doctor is merely trying to find out what sort of BRCA1 mutation a woman has inherited. He said the issuing of the BRCA1 gene patent to Myriad in 2001 led to a monopoly that was bad for medicine because it dissuaded other companies from developing rival tests.

A spokesman for Myriad Genetics said: "It is important for us to point out that research activities with the patented technologies are not limited in any way by Myriad and are encouraged through subsidised costs for testing from the company to researchers."

Sarah Rawlings, head of policy at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said she hoped the patent decision would not negatively impact on genetic testing services currently available in the UK.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Tradewind Recruitment: Experienced Cover Supervisor

    £12000 - £14400 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: Experienced Cover Supervisor...

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Account Manager

    £14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company are proud to be on...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Engineer with SQL skills

    £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

    Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

    £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project