Today the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that human genes cannot be patented. This ruling has broad implications for our work in gynecologic and breast cancers, and for genetic research in many other fields. It is a big step forward towards our goals of individualized medicine and cancer risk assessments.
The case originated with concerns over exclusivity granted by a patent to a single company to control rights to testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations. When present in women, these two inherited genetic abnormalities dramatically increase a woman’s chances of ovarian and breast cancer. The tests are expensive—potentially costing over $4,000.
In a rare unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that “products of nature”– in this case, human genes–are not patentable like “human-made inventions.” Therefore, the discovery of the genetic sequence of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes is not eligible for patent protection. Justice Clarence Thomas said, writing for the court, “A naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated.”
This ruling has immediate implications for our work in women’s cancers, as it is expected to make testing for BRCA mutations more affordable and widely accessible. It also should help women in other countries as the test becomes more widely accepted and cancer risk more easily identified. Women and their doctors will begin to have much more information to help guide them in making decisions about preventative treatments.
There may be other long term ramifications on research. While some believe this will temper the willingness of companies to invest in research, I believe it may actually encourage continued growth and discovery in biotechnology, particularly those companies who have been hesitant to make major investment while awaiting the decision in this case.
Today let’s celebrate a great achievement in our fight to end cancer as a threat to women. For years, our run for her family has helped us make genetic counseling and testing available to our patients.
The Supreme Court’s ruling ensures even greater access to BRCA testing for all women.
Beth Y. Karlan, MD
Greetings from Chicago – I have just wrapped up four days of meetings, presentations and exciting discussions at the 49th annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Each day was non-stop – early morning until late evening – filled with over 2700 presentations to OVER 30,000 participants, representing over 100 countries where ASCO members provide cancer care and research. To see more about the meeting, visit www.asco.org.
The theme of the 2013 meeting was Building Bridges to Conquer Cancer. Over the twenty years that I’ve been a member of ASCO I have rarely seen an annual meeting with such hope for the future. We found much promise across numerous issues that included new, targeted therapies, improved diagnostics, and supportive care. The heightened pace of scientific achievement is made possible by new technology, team science, and big data and digital information. Broader issues of increasing patient advocacy, supporting the next generation of cancer researchers, and global equity in care were also important components of this year’s meeting.
Many exciting presentations advanced our efforts with women’s cancers. Much of the research that was presented focused on the new era of precision medicine–strategically choosing targeted treatment based on a tumor’s molecular characteristics. There were also presentations from pivotal clinical trials with data that shows improved survival and promise in new maintenance therapies that increase the time in remission.
Hopefully, on your television or your laptop you saw some of the exciting news that came out of this year’s annual meeting. As a member of the Board of Directors for ASCO’s Conquer Cancer Foundation I had a front row seat and met with many of the scientists and award winners at the meeting. In addition, through the Conquer Cancer Foundation, ASCO supports work around the globe providing mentorship and training to cancer physicians who are translating advances that are moving us towards a world free from the fear of cancer.
It is my belief that in 10 years we will not be practicing cancer care the same way that we do today. Cancer care will improve on almost every front, bringing hope to millions. Thanks to your ongoing support, the physicians and researchers at Cedars-Sinai’s Women’s Cancer Program at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute continue to be at the forefront of much of this new work. It is my hope that you share some of my excitement as we enter this new era of promise in cancer care and research.
Beth Y. Karlan, MD
run for her has always embraced the word “hope.” Hope for a test, hope for a cure, and hope that our worldwide circle of friends affected by the ovarian cancer have the courage and strength to get through their individual journeys.
On a personal note, this week has been an emotional roller coaster—I learned that one run for her friend has defeated all odds and is cancer free, while another close to our hearts has had a recurrence. For her, the journey begins again.
This all reminds me of the importance of research—and how far we’ve come. Last week brought the news of a breakthrough by Beth Y. Karlan, MD, and her team at the Cedars-Sinai Women’s Cancer Program (WCP) at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute.
Dr. Karlan and WCP researchers were part of a large national study on women’s cancers published in the journal Nature. Scientists believe their findings validate the idea that cancers are better defined by their genetic fingerprint than by the organ where they originate. This could mean that certain cancers with similar gene mutations—like some endometrial, ovarian, and breast cancers–might respond to the same treatments.
“Many developments in medicine are about treatments or tests that are only useful for a certain period of time,” said one researcher. “But this is something that will be useful 200 years from now. This is a landmark that will stand the test of time.”
You can read more on the research at nytimes.com.
I hope you will join me in congratulating Dr. Karlan and all the men and women at the WCP on their good work—and for giving us all hope for better detection and cure.
And thank you for supporting run for her—you’ve made this all possible.
All the best,
run for her Founder
To learn more about how you can support the important research underway at WCP, please visit www.runforher.com.
As we journey toward the 9th annual run for her on November 10, 2013, I find myself more encouraged and hopeful than ever before—and I will share why in a moment.
When I started run for her 9 years ago, I had no idea if it would be a success. I just knew that ovarian cancer needed a voice. Ovarian cancer needed funding. Ovarian cancer needed a test. And ovarian cancer needed a cure.
What brings me great hope is an exciting announcement from our beneficiary, the Cedars-Sinai Women’s Cancer Program (WCP) at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute.
WCP has launched a program called the research for her registry, which is now actively recruiting female volunteers (ages 18 and over) with and without a history of cancer. Participants in this registry will help make a difference in the fight against women’s cancers in a non-invasive, very simple way. All they have to do in answer a secure questionnaire and their information will be entered into the research database.
I think all of us want to help but don’t always know how. The registry is an easy and effective way to help save lives.
What makes this even more exciting is that you can join the registry online. I just signed up, and it took less than 10 minutes from start to finish!
I hope that all the women over 18 years old reading this will register and all the men reading will encourage the ladies in their life to sign up, too.
For more details on research for her and to sign up, click here: www.cedars-sinai.edu/researchforher. You can also read the original announcement to the run for her community.
Thank you for continuing to support our event and the work of the WCP!
run for her Founder
What an incredible day! From every perspective, the 8th Annual run for her® was undoubtedly our best yet. Thanks to you, Cedars-Sinai’s run for her® remains one of the nation’s pre-eminent ovarian cancer awareness events.
I am grateful to everyone who helped us reach out to thousands of women all over the world with important information about ovarian cancer. The money you raised will maintain support for our scientists and physicians as they search for keys that can help us find better screening, more effective treatments, and someday a test that will detect ovarian cancer.
My heartfelt thanks go out to all of our walkers and runners, all those who donated, our worldwide network of Sleepwalkers, and the hundreds of volunteers who supported the event in Pan Pacific Park. I also want to acknowledge the incredible efforts of our run for her® Committee, the Young Guns and the Sargent Family, as well as our outstanding Community Relations team under the direction of Laura Fuhrman.
Every stride we take toward these goals we take together with you.
Finally, I want to acknowledge our sponsors – including DFS Galleria, Pacific Sales and LG, G2 Graphics and 7-Eleven, and the many other companies whose support allows us to produce the event. You are all an important part of our run for her® family.
The energy in the Park this year was magical. I hope that you will keep the spirit of run for her® alive in the weeks and months to come.
From the entire Women’s Cancer Program family, best wishes for a safe and happy holiday season.
Beth Y. Karlan, MD