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The Boston Globe

Health & wellness

Companies to offer cancer test in wake of ruling

After the Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that genes cannot be patented, invalidating portions of patents that Myriad Genetics held on genetic mutations that increase risk for breast and ovarian cancer, several companies said that they plan to offer genetic tests to compete with Myriad's.

The American Civil Liberties Union brought the case on behalf of patients, doctors, and scientists, in the hope that if genes were deemed ineligible for patent protection, it would open the field for other companies to offer a test for the cancer mutations and drive down the price. Laboratories at hospitals and companies that offer whole genome sequencing to patients could also provide such results without worrying about possible patent infringement.

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Gene By Gene, Ltd., a Houston-based genomics and genetics testing company, announced it would develop and launch a test for breast and ovarian cancer risk genes and offer it for $995, considerably less than the $3,340 cost of Myriad Genetics’ test.

“We commend the Supreme Court for opening the door to greater technological innovation and access to genetic tools that promise to save and improve the quality of human lives in the United States,” Bennett Greenspan, president of Gene By Gene, said in a press release. “It’s critical that as an industry we are able to continue to engage in healthy competition to drive down the costs of these tests -- because as more individuals have access to and undergo them, the more information we’ll have about many serious diseases that eventually may lead to cures.”

GeneDx, a Maryland company, announced it would create a genetic test for breast and ovarian cancer risk that examined 27 genes.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Quest Diagnostics, a large company that sells diagnostic tests, planned to offer such a test later this year.

In an e-mail, Wendy H. Bost, Quest’s director of media relations, told the Journal that the company expects the court decision “will open opportunities for Quest Diagnostics to develop new testing services, including in the area of hereditary breast cancer.”

Intellectual property lawyers noted that the court left intact many of the claims in Myriad’s patents, raising the question of whether those companies will face litigation. A company spokesman Thursday said that its patents are still “valid and enforceable,” but said he could not speculate about what actions the company might take if other companies were to introduce competing tests. The real question, then, is whether Myriad Genetics will have the stomach to enter into more protracted lawsuits to try and stop competitors from emerging. That remains to be seen.

Carolyn Y. Johnson can be reached at cjohnson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @carolynyjohnson.

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