Genetic testing company to favour trade secrets over patents

5 September 2011

Following the decision that Myriad Genetics should retain intellectual property rights over the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes in the US (see previous news), there has been debate over the company’s future.
The BRCA tests accounted for around 88% of Myriad’s total revenue in the last year, which has risen by 14% in total over the last quarter. Although they have retained their monopoly on these tests in the US, which cost more than $3000, critics have pointed out that the technology behind them is outmoded and will soon be eclipsed by whole genome sequencing techniques that could sequence an entire genome for a similar price.
An article in the New York Times reports that Myriad plans to adopt new technologies before their BRCA patent protection expires, as well as increasing diversification into other forms of diagnostics and maintaining trade secrets rather than claiming intellectual property. The company no longer shares research data with a National Institutes of Health public database.

Comment: Sharing data undoubtedly maximises the pace of discovery in medical research. However, companies do still need to make a profit in order to operate, and it may be that many have decided trade secrets are the best way forward; patents may be more legally robust, but if challenged they may generate hefty legal bills. Secrets, if they can be kept, are free. However, how far patients will be willing to participate in research with no direct public or personal benefit is less clear.