“I Discovered the BRCA1 Gene”

“I Discovered the BRCA1 Gene.” By Sara Reardon, Slate.

Mary-Claire King, the geneticist who discovered the BRCA1 gene, says she is delighted by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that makes it illegal to patent it. Her work inspired the forthcoming film Decoding Annie Parker, in which she is portrayed by Helen Hunt.

Sara Reardon: You discovered the BRCA1 gene in the early 1990s. Soon afterward, Myriad Genetics determined and patented the sequences of the genes. At the time, were you surprised by that?

Mary-Claire King: Genes had been patented before; the cystic fibrosis gene was patented. But I don’t think anyone—from the U.S. 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 U.S. Supreme Court. They brought the case on behalf of people who needed tests and were not able to get a second opinion.

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