WASHINGTON--The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is disputing the commercial rights to the newly discovered breast cancer gene BRCA1. In a move that could affect how much women pay for screening when such a test becomes available, scientists at the University of Utah and Myriad Genetics, Inc. failed to include NIH as a collaborator when it applied to patent the gene. The NIH has filed a counter application.
BRCA1 was discovered partly by NIH scientists using taxpayer funds, but unless NIH is successful in its legal effort, the federal government would have no control over how commercial results of the discovery are marketed. A patent arising out of discovery of the new gene would give the patent holder a 17-year monopoly on the sale of diagnostic tests and/or pharmaceuticals developed from it.
According to NIH Director Harold Varmus, agency lawyers will try to resolve the dispute in an effort to avoid going to court.