Law Suit of Angelina Jolie’s Gene: BRCA

Today we will touch on the subject of patents and discuss a case involving Angelina Jolie. But this gene is not a gene that makes Jolie beautiful. On the contrary, there will be a gene that indicates that her risk of developing cancer is very high. Before we get straight to the subject, let’s make a brief introduction.

The Most Basic Patent Rule

Basic patent rules tell us: A human gene cannot be patented. In fact, it is not possible to patent anything that occurs naturally in nature. For something to be patented, it must go through additional stages and needs to be nothing but ordinary. If the obtained thing is patented, it cannot be used by other people without permission. If used, serious sanctions can be applied. In short, the product obtained now belongs to the patent owner. Except for a few exceptional cases, only the patent owner can use and produce that product.

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Angelina Jolie’s Risk of Breast Cancer

Angelina Jolie lost her mother to breast cancer at the age of 57. His grandmother died from the same cause when she was just 49 years old. That’s why Jolie had a test in 2013 and learned that she had an 87% risk of developing breast cancer as a result of the test. This test looked for mutations in an existing gene when calculating the percentage of Jolie’s risk of developing breast cancer: the BRCA1 gene. The risk was calculated by detecting the mutation in this gene. Everything looks good so far, right? Thanks to the development of science, we now have the opportunity to detect our risk of developing certain cancers years ago. In that case, we can at least prevent breast cancer by having all people undergo this test. However, we come across a problem that is why we are writing this article: the gene patent of Myriad Genetics!


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It’s Possible to Predict Cancer Risk (if you’re rich!)

Angelina Jolie first had her breast removed after learning about her cancer risk. She then removed the risk of another type of cancer by removing her ovaries and uterus. Jolie was easily able to pay the fees for the test, but it’s not the case for everyone.

The tests for cancer risk and the genes these tests focus on, BRCA1 and BRCA2, are patented by Myriad Genetics, a Utah-based biotechnology company. That’s why the test prices are quite high.
It is very important for a woman to have these tests done. That’s because patients with BRCA mutations have up to 87 percent risks for breast cancer and 44 percent for ovarian cancer by the age of 70. The only way to learn about these risks is to take the tests of Myriad Genetics.

Angelina Jolie’s Opposition

Angelina Jolie was one of those who opposed gene patents. She stated that the price of the test was more than $3,000 in the United States. Therefore, this fee was not an amount that everyone could easily afford. Moreover, since breast and ovarian cancers can be prevented by early diagnosis, hence foreseeing the risks with these tests really saves lives.

Why Shouldn’t Genes Be Patented?

As a result of the pressure exerted by Angelina Jolie, a lawsuit was filed against Myriad Genetics. It was stated that it was not correct for the company to have the patent of these genes and many people got cancer because they could not get tested due to financial reasons. Christopher Hansen, one of the lawyers who opposed the gene patent, argued that genes are part of nature. Nature already had this gene before Myriad. The judges actually seemed to agree, and Chief Justice John Roberts repeatedly asked Myriad Genetics’ attorney Gregory Castanias how the process of isolating BRCA genes differs from “cutting” them from an existing chromosome. He also said that the fact that genes are patented limits different research groups from obtaining easier methods.


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The Other Side of the Coin: Bigger Researches Needs Money!

Myriad Genetics defended itself by stating that the process of isolating a gene for testing requires human intelligence so that the resulting isolated gene can be patented. In addition, many biotech companies, such as Myriad, stressed that they do critical public service through medical research and should be allowed to protect the techniques and products they have invested millions of dollars into its development. In other words, more research was needed to cure more people. They stated that they need to sell their tests at high prices because they need more money for their research.
Also, research from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) shows that about 20 percent of our genes are already patented. A 2013 study in Nature Biotechnology shows that there are more than 15,000 US patents containing isolated human DNA.

Conclusion: Genes Cannot Be Patented!

The Supreme Court gave the final decision on this case, which was brought to the court. A unanimous 9-0 decision was announced that genes cannot be patented. After a long legal battle, the high court invalidated Myriad’s patents on breast cancer susceptibility genes BRCA1 and BRCA2. Declaring that genes are products of nature and cannot be considered inventions, The Court decided against the company.
Ellen Matloff of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) explained this decision as follows: “Today will go down in the history books as one of the most important days in the evolution of genetic testing and personalized medicine!

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Angelina Jolie’s Incredible Influence

This verdict and the awareness raised by Angelina Jolie regarding breast cancer in the public led to a serious increase in women going to the hospital for early diagnosis. In June and July, the number of doctors who gave consultation for genetic counseling and DNA testing for breast cancer mutations doubled compared to the same period of the previous year.
According to the study published in the Breast Cancer Research Journal, the number of applicants doubled between August and October of the previous year, as well.

References and Future Readings

Azvolinsky, A. (2020, November 11). Supreme Court ruling invalidates myriad’s BRCA gene patents. Cancer Network. Retrieved July 13, 2022, from

Ross, H. (2019, August 1). Myriad genetics holds patent on Angelina Jolie’s genes. Healthline. Retrieved July 13, 2022, from

University of Rochester. Court Case on Genetic Patents Has Huge Implications for Biomedical Research :: ROCForward :: University of Rochester. (n.d.). Retrieved July 13, 2022, from

The proofreading has been done by Asu Pelin Akköse and Mete Esencan.

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Mete Esencan

Hello everyone! I'm Mete Esencan. I am a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry at METU. I was planning to establish a platform by combining the research knowledge I gained during my basic science education and the management experience I gained in the METU Chemistry Society, which I was in charge of for three years. For this purpose, in February of 2021, I took the first step and established the OkButWhy, a platform where we can write articles as if to chat about science, art and philosophy. I wish everyone a pleasant reading!

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