Brussels, 19 May 2004
The European Patent Office (EPO) has revoked the European patent of a US biotechnology company, Myriad Genetics, on a breast and ovarian cancer genetic test.
In a statement, the EPO explained that it had upheld appeals from scientific institutes, including the Institut Marie Curie in France, against the patent, on the grounds that the company's monopoly prevented the development of research and the identification of new tests. The EPO also stated that the work mentioned in the patent was not novel enough under European Patent Law to qualify for patent protection, and that Myriad Genetics had made errors in decoding the relevant genetic sequence.
The patent requested by Myriad Genetics covers a test to predict whether a woman is at high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer by looking at mutations in the BRCA1gene. Indeed, studies have found that patients with mutations in BRCA1 gene have a much higher risk of getting breast or ovarian cancer than the general public.
Myriad Genetics charges around 3,000 euro for a predisposition test and does not allow other laboratories to perform it. Dr Dominique Stoppa-Lyonnet, head of the genetics department at the Institut Marie Curie, said Myriad had slowed down medical research by not allowing others to perform the test and potentially improve it. She said work done by her institute had found that Myriad's testing method missed about 15 per cent of mutations in the gene.