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Commercial Opportunities and Ethical Pitfalls in Personalized Medicine: A Myriad of Reasons to Revisit the Myriad Genetics Saga

[ Vol. 11 , Issue. 2 ]

Author(s):

Derek So and Yann Joly   Pages 98 - 109 ( 12 )

Abstract:


In 1996, the US-based biotechnology company Myriad Genetics began offering genetic diagnostic tests for mutations in the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, which are linked to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. Since that time, Myriad has been a forerunner in the field of personalized medicine through the use of effective commercialization strategies which have been emulated by other commercial biotechnology companies. Myriad’s strategies include patent acquisition and active enforcement, direct-to-consumer advertising, diversification, and trade secrets. These business models have raised substantial ethical controversy and criticism, often related to the company’s focus on market dominance and the potential conflict between private sector profitability and the promotion of public health. However, these strategies have enabled Myriad to survive the economic challenges that have affected the biotechnology sector and to become financially successful in the field of personalized medicine. Our critical assessment of the legal, economic and ethical aspects of Myriad’s practices over this period allows the identification of the company’s more effective business models. It also discusses of the consequences of implementing economically viable models without first carrying out broader reflection on the socio-cultural, ethical and political contexts in which they would apply.

Keywords:

BRCA genes, breast and ovarian cancer, commercialization, direct-to-consumer advertising, gene patents, genetic diagnostic tests, myriad genetics, trade secrets.

Affiliation:

McGill University, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Human Genetics, Centre of Genomics and Policy, 740 Dr. Penfield Avenue, Suite 5200, Montreal, QC, Canada.



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