You can’t patent a piece of the human genome, the Supreme Court declared in a unanimous decision in June. So why, in the weeks after, did Myriad Genetics — the company whose patents were voided — sue a competitor for patent infringement for testing for the very gene declared unpatentable by the Court?
Some background: In the case, the Association for Molecular Pathology brought suit against Myriad because it thought it one company shouldn’t have the sole rights to a segment of the human genome — especially when that segment indicates a person’s breast-cancer risk. The organization argued that Myriad’s monopoly of testing for the malignant variants of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes plugged up innovation in the science and drove up costs for patients. Those with a certain variant of these genes have a 60 percent likelihood of developing breast cancer. If you recall, the actress Angelina Jolie discovered she was a carrier for the gene, which prompted her to undergo a double mastectomy to void the risk.
The Supreme Court largely agreed with the Association for Molecular Pathology, declaring slices of the naturally occurring human genome unfit for patents. And right after the decision, two companies — Ambry Genetics and Gene By Gene — saw an opening to start offering the breast-cancer screening tests that Myriad had been performing. And then Myriad sued … for patent infringement.
The short answer to how Myriad could justify its move is this: Science is so very complicated, and the Court ruled narrowly.
In its decision, the Supreme Court maintained that man-made copies of human DNA were still patentable. These pieces are called cDNA, which are slightly altered copies of the naturally occurring genes. They are useful tools for genetic testing, since they can be used to relay a person’s genetic information in a stable form. This bit of the ruling, in effect, allows Myriad to still lay claim to much of the breast-cancer testing.
Writing in Scientific American, Megan Krench, a geneticist, provides a more detailed answer (Reader’s Digest version: While the Court took away Myriad’s castle, they left them the moat):
Why do Myriad’s patent rights to cDNA matter? There are several reasons. First, cDNA is an important research tool. For example, the edited cDNA sequence, not the longer DNA sequence, is often used to create animal models of diseases. Those models are essential for researching new treatments and cures. Without the licensing to BRCA1/2 cDNA, certain cancer research may be restricted to Myriad. Next, cDNA is critical for developing new diagnostic tests for genetic disorders. Since the BRCA1/2 genes themselves are not patented, it may be possible for other companies to develop new genetic tests — but the patented cDNA will make this process much more difficult.
In all, after the Court’s decision, Myriad argues in the documents filed against Ambry, it has retained 515 of 520 patent claims regarding the test.
This issue is going to get another go-around in the courts, as Ambry has countersued, citing antitrust violations. A lot of money is at stake here for Myriad and its competitors. According to Ars Technica, Myriad hauled in $57 million from the tests that can cost $3,000 or more. And the introduction of competitors, however brief, pushed the market price way down: Ambry started to sell the tests for $2,280; Gene by Gene offered a relative steal at $995. The genetic-testing industry is on the verge of booming, as I reported in June. By 2021, the national costs for genetic testing could rise to $25 billion. Right now, they are around $5 billion.
What We're Following See More »
Before we get to the specifics of this exposé about escorts working the Iowa and New Hampshire primary crowds, let’s get three things out of the way: 1.) It’s from Cosmopolitan; 2.) most of the women quoted use fake (if colorful) names; and 3.) again, it’s from Cosmopolitan. That said, here’s what we learned:
- Business was booming: one escort who says she typically gets two inquiries a weekend got 15 requests in the pre-primary weekend.
- Their primary season clientele is a bit older than normal—”40s through mid-60s, compared with mostly twentysomething regulars” and “they’ve clearly done this before.”
- They seemed more nervous than other clients, because “the stakes are higher when you’re working for a possible future president” but “all practiced impeccable manners.”
- One escort “typically enjoy[s] the company of Democrats more, just because I feel like our views line up a lot more.”
No matter where you stand on mandating companies to include a backdoor in encryption technologies, it doesn’t make sense to allow that decision to be made on a state level. “The problem with state-level legislation of this nature is that it manages to be both wildly impractical and entirely unenforceable,” writes Brian Barrett at Wired. There is a solution to this problem. “California Congressman Ted Lieu has introduced the ‘Ensuring National Constitutional Rights for Your Private Telecommunications Act of 2016,’ which we’ll call ENCRYPT. It’s a short, straightforward bill with a simple aim: to preempt states from attempting to implement their own anti-encryption policies at a state level.”
Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”
The New Covenant. The Third Way. The Democratic Leadership Council style. Call it what you will, but whatever centrist triangulation Bill Clinton embraced in 1992, Hillary Clinton wants no part of it in 2016. Writing for Bloomberg, Sasha Issenberg and Margaret Talev explore how Hillary’s campaign has “diverged pointedly” from what made Bill so successful: “For Hillary to survive, Clintonism had to die.” Bill’s positions in 1992—from capital punishment to free trade—“represented a carefully calibrated diversion from the liberal orthodoxy of the previous decade.” But in New Hampshire, Hillary “worked to juggle nostalgia for past Clinton primary campaigns in the state with the fact that the Bill of 1992 or the Hillary of 2008 would likely be a marginal figure within today’s Democratic politics.”
At first, “it was pleasant” to see Trevor Noah “smiling away and deeply dimpling in the Stewart seat, the seat that had lately grown gray hairs,” writes The Atlantic‘s James Parker in assessing the new host of the once-indispensable Daily Show. But where Jon Stewart was a heavyweight, Noah is “a very able lightweight, [who] needs time too. But he won’t get any. As a culture, we’re not about to nurture this talent, to give it room to grow. Our patience was exhausted long ago, by some other guy. We’re going to pass judgment and move on. There’s a reason Simon Cowell is so rich. Impress us today or get thee hence. So it comes to this: It’s now or never, Trevor.”