Who owns my mutation?
April 13, 2006 3:00 PM   Subscribe

Help me track down and understand the owner of mutation's patent.

I carry a genetic mutation, BRCA1, and am trying to research it for a story I'm writing. I've found lots of stuff through Google about disputes over the ownership of the patent in the US and Europe, but want to know more about how the mutation was isolated, who patented it. The patent is owned by Myriad Genetics, but I'd like to know more about the people behind the company.
posted by Sara Anne to Science & Nature (13 answers total)
 
These two articles are apparently the beginning:

J.M. Hall, M.K. Lee, B. Newman, J.E. Morrow, L.A. Anderson and B. Huey et al., Linkage of early-onset familial breast cancer to chromosome 17q21, Science 250 (1990) (4988), pp. 1684–1689.

Y. Miki, J. Swensen, D. Shattuck-Eidens, P.A. Futreal, K. Harshman and S. Tavtigian et al., A strong candidate for the breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility gene BRCA1, Science 266 (1994) (5182), pp. 66–71.

Since they're in the journal, Science, you should be able to get them at any reasonable university (e.g. UNM). Some of the authors in the second article appear to be the ones who founded Myriad.

I found them from this review article:

BRCA1 in breast and ovarian cancer predisposition. Cancer Letters. 2005 Sep 8;227(1):1-7.

You should also be able to get that article at the UNM Medical Center library. If you have problems (not a student, etc.) your doctor should be able to get copies of them for you.

I'm not sure what you will learn about those people from the journal article though.

Sorry about the moderately crappy formatting.
posted by sevenless at 3:31 PM on April 13, 2006


(Hazy on this, but maybe this can help you search; I remember that there was a genetic mutation that's used for breast cancer screening - some company wanted $$ from anyone screening for that mutation. iirc, hospitals in Canada continue screening without paying royalties.)

Quick search:

Brief Nature blurb

Blurb from Cancer.ca
posted by PurplePorpoise at 3:37 PM on April 13, 2006


The Univ. of Utah laboratory of the Chief Scientific Officer and a co-founder of Myriad, Mark Skolnick, first cloned and sequenced the gene. But Mary Claire-King at Berkeley, with help from several other groups, did a lot of the work that made that possible, including proving that the gene existed and finding its rough location in the genome. It really was a very close "race" and Skolnick turned out to just barely beat everyone else. The vast majority of funding that lead to Myriad's cloning of the gene was from the NIH (ie, taxpayers). Myriad also identified the mutations in the gene which predispose to cancer, although having the gene in hand makes that not an extremely difficult task to carry out. To me, the key accomplishment was demonstrating that there was a single gene that conferred susceptibility to breast and ovarian cancer. The rest was sort of the "next obvious experiment" kind of research.

Here's what I know about the primary patent: Myriad has licensing rights, but the assignees (owners) include also the Univ of Utah and the federal gov. in some capacity.
posted by shoos at 3:39 PM on April 13, 2006


Hmmm, those Science citations may not be clear if you're not used to them. The first number after "Science" is the volume. The first number in parentheses is the publication year, and the second is the issue number. (Weekly publication x nearly 100 years = a lot of issues.)

The Cancer Letters article is volume 227, number 1.

Also, parts of those Science articles may be really technical and hard to understand without some molecular biology background.
posted by sevenless at 3:44 PM on April 13, 2006


Books thoroughly chronicling the discovery of BRCA1
Breakthrough: The Race to Find the Breast Cancer Gene
Curing Cancer : Solving One of the Greatest Medical Mysteries of Our Time

shoos has the summary on the discovery race.

Myriad doesn't have a patent on the gene per se but it has a patent on every conceivable application of it. In other words, Myriad doesn't (and can't) own the gene in your body but if you want to devise a test or treatment for it, you have to go through them.
posted by junesix at 3:45 PM on April 13, 2006



Myriad doesn't have a patent on the gene per se but it has a patent on every conceivable application of it.


Sorry to thread-jack but it looks like the question has been answered. Can somebody clarify this? It seems ridiculous even for patent law. Surely you can only patent the tests/treatments FOR a gene, not the actual gene.

If so, somebody needs to go burn down the US Patent Office (as a symbolic, non-terrorist gesture where no parties are injured or property damage inflicted Mr. FBI agent reading my comments).
posted by onalark at 4:02 PM on April 13, 2006


Searching Entrez Nucleotide for [patent[Properties] skolnick breast] leads me to this patent:
The present invention relates generally to the field of human genetics. Specifically, the present invention relates to methods and materials used to isolate and detect a human breast and ovarian cancer predisposing gene (BRCA1), some mutant alleles of which cause susceptibility to cancer, in particular breast and ovarian cancer. More specifically, the invention relates to germline mutations in the BRCA1 gene and their use in the diagnosis of predisposition to breast and ovarian cancer. The present invention further relates to somatic mutations in the BRCA1 gene in human breast and ovarian cancer and their use in the diagnosis and prognosis of human breast and ovarian cancer. Additionally, the invention relates to somatic mutations in the BRCA1 gene in other human cancers and their use in the diagnosis and prognosis of human cancers. The invention also relates to the therapy of human cancers which have a mutation in the BRCA1 gene, including gene therapy, protein replacement therapy and protein mimetics. The invention further relates to the screening of drugs for cancer therapy. Finally, the invention relates to the screening of the BRCA1 gene for mutations, which are useful for diagnosing the predisposition to breast and ovarian cancer.
posted by grouse at 4:07 PM on April 13, 2006


onalark-

Google "How many genes are patented?" for more that you ever wanted to know.
posted by sevenless at 4:10 PM on April 13, 2006


Thanks everyone!
posted by Sara Anne at 4:14 PM on April 13, 2006


my "Myriad's cloning of the gene" should actually read "cloning of the gene by Skolnick's Univ. of Utah laboratory and their collaborators"

These are Myriad's patents on BRCA1, although there are co-assignees for all but one of them:
5,693,473, Linked breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility gene
5,709,999, Linked breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility gene
5,710,001, 17q-linked breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility gene
5,753,441, 17q-linked breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility gene
6,030,832, Carboxy-terminal BRCA1 interacting protein
6,162,897, 17q-linked breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility gene
posted by shoos at 4:21 PM on April 13, 2006


If one desired to read a strongly critical take on the idea of gene patenting, Jeremy Rifkin's The Biotech Century would be that book.

I strongly oppose the idea of gene patenting. What could be more public domain than the genes that all of us share for our basic vital functions? It's like patenting breathing, or heartbeats, or urinating.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:42 AM on April 14, 2006


onalark, you may want to read this short article from The Guardian. Scary stuff.
posted by youarenothere at 8:58 AM on April 14, 2006


Thanks for the followup answers everyone.
posted by onalark at 1:21 PM on April 15, 2006


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