Today, if you want to know what scary family health secrets lay buried in your DNA or get screened for a lurking cancer, you have a lot of options. Laboratories have developed more than 75,000 genetic tests, with about 10 new ones entering the market daily. By the end of 2019, more than 26 million Americans had had their DNA decoded to some degree or another. Since then, that number has surely grown.
But this testing frenzy would have been inconceivable just 10 years ago. In part, that’s because the technology back then was so expensive. More importantly, until 2013, it was common practice for gene-hunting academics and companies to lock up their discoveries with DNA patents, effectively carving up the human genome into mini-monopolies. That year, the U.S. Supreme Court threw a bomb into the biotech world when it took up a landmark case that pitted cancer survivors and the American Civil Liberties Union against a diagnostics company called Myriad Genetics, which had obtained exclusive patents on the cancer-causing BRCA genes and made billions of dollars selling tests for them.
A new book called “The Genome Defense,” written by University of Utah science and technology law expert Jorge Contreras and being published Oct. 26, provides a front-row seat to the courtroom drama that would upend three decades of federal intellectual property law and chart a new course toward balancing corporate profits with the rights of all people to the information written into their DNA.
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