Chapter 7: The Utah Saints: Patent Law and Genetic Testing
In March 2000, a Washington production of Margaret Edson’s Pulitzerprize winning play Wit,1 told the story of English literature professor, Vivian Bearing, and her struggle with ovarian cancer.2 Tucked into the Playbill was an advertisement for Myriad Genetics Inc. It pictured an earnest woman with her left hand held against her right breast and asked: ‘If you could discover your risk for a second breast cancer or for ovarian cancer, would you? There is no stronger antidote to fear than information.’3 The emergence of Myriad Genetics is instructive about the history of the biotechnology industry. Dr Mark Skolnick and Nobel Laureate Walter Gilbert founded the company in 1993.4 Its focus was upon developing diagnostics, rather than pharmaceutical drugs. The company’s press release from April 1994 stated: Myriad is establishing a genetic information business based on testing for genes which predispose individuals to major common diseases. The genetic information business represents a multi-billion dollar market opportunity for the Company just for the testing of individuals aﬀected with disease and their family members. As genetic disease testing moves toward a general population screen, the market size increases dramatically.5 Myriad’s oﬃcial corporate mission statement proclaimed that it was ‘building a worldwide business based on the discovery and commercialization of genes linked to major disorders such as cancer and heart disease’.6 Although concentrating on breast and skin cancer, Myriad also vowed to ﬁnd genes for prostate, lung and colon cancer, obesity and hypertension. The company states that it would ‘capitalize on...
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