Common Myths and Facts About Gene Patents

Myth #1: I heard that someone could patent my genes.

Fact: No one can patent anyone’s genes. Genes consist of DNA that is naturally occurring in a person’s body and as products of nature are not patentable. In order to unravel the mysteries of what genes do, researchers have had to separate them from the rest of the DNA by producing man-made copies of only that portion of the gene that provides instructions for making proteins (only about 2% of the total DNA in your body). These man-made copies, called “isolated DNA,” are unique chemical compositions not found in nature or the human body. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has been granting patents on “isolated DNA” to universities, hospitals, patient advocacy groups and companies for over 30 years. In fact, most isolated DNA patents were granted to research institutions rather than companies. These patents provide incentive for pharmaceutical, biotechnology and diagnostic companies to invest the hundreds of millions of dollars and decades of time to develop ground-breaking medicines and diagnostics that have saved and enhanced countless lives.


Myth #2: I can’t get a second opinion because of gene patents.

Fact: Since 1999, many laboratories have performed genetic testing to confirm breast cancer hereditary risk results. Today, you can get second opinion testing from the UCLA Diagnostic Molecular Pathology Laboratory, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, University of Chicago Genetic Services Laboratory, University of California San Francisco Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory, Fox Chase Cancer Center, and University of North Carolina Hospitals.\


Myth #3: Gene patents restrict access to genetic testing.

Fact: Because of the incentives provided by patents, companies invest millions of dollars in clinical studies that are essential for obtaining insurance coverage. For Myriad tests, approximately 95% of all appropriate patients have access to breast cancer susceptibility testing through private insurance, Medicare, Medicaid or Myriad’s Financial Assistance Program. Under our Financial Assistance Program, we test low-income, uninsured patients at no charge and have provided free testing to over 5,000 patients just in the past 3 years.


Myth #4: Patented products are more expensive.

Fact: No, not according to scientific studies conducted by independent researchers. A study published in Genetics in Medicine found that, “Prices for BRCA1 and BRCA2 testing do not reflect an obvious price premium attributable to exclusive patent rights.” The Health and Human Services SACGHS’ Committee released its report on gene patents clearly stating: “The per-unit price of the full-sequenced BRAC test, which often is cited as being priced very high, was actually quite comparable to the price of full-sequence tests done on colon cancer for which associated patents are non-exclusively licensed.” Additionally, the total average out-of-pocket cost for patients taking a Myriad test is less than $100.


Myth #5: Gene patents hinder research.

Fact: Actually patents do just the opposite; they facilitate research and ensure that there is full disclosure of new discoveries. Since the discovery of the BRCA genes more than 18,000 scientists have studied them, publishing more than 9,000 research papers. This makes the BRCA genes some of the most widely studied genes in the world. Myriad actually fostered and encouraged research around the BRCA genes by providing testing at cost to any researcher funded by the National Cancer Institute.