Mary-Claire King , the geneticist who discovered the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, says she is delighted by the US Supreme Court ruling that makes it illegal to patent them
You discovered the BRCA genes in the early 1990s. Soon afterwards, Myriad Genetics determined and patented the sequences of the genes. At the time, were you surprised by that?
Genes had been patented before; the cystic fibrosis gene was patented. But I don’t think anyone – from the US National Institutes of Health or anywhere else – anticipated the level of patent protection Myriad has engaged in.
What was different about Myriad was its insistence that it was the only entity that could do the test and its aggressive efforts to shut down anyone else. That’s why in 2009 the American Civil Liberties Union filed the suit that has gone all the way to the US Supreme Court. They brought the case on behalf of people who needed tests and were not able to get a second opinion.
On 13 June, the US Supreme Court ruled that genes occurring in nature cannot be patented. What is your reaction to the ruling?
I am delighted. This is a fabulous result for patients, physicians, scientists and common sense. When I was working on it from 1974 to 1994, it did not cross my mind that a legal case that would end up in the Supreme Court would be the consequence of my work. But it did and sometimes that’s what happens when you start in a new area of science. It is a relief to have a decision after so many years, and I’m so gratified that it was a unanimous decision. …