Skip to Content

Cheaper Genetic Tests for Breast Cancer Risks in 2014?

Following the Supreme Court’s rejection of gene patents, the U.S. proposes steep cuts to reimbursements for tests that detect breast cancer genes.
December 31, 2013

The ruling that natural human genes cannot be patented was one of the biggest biotechnology stories of 2013, and the effects of that Supreme Court decision are already threatening defendant Myriad Genetics.

The Salt Lake City-based molecular-diagnostics company lost the ability to patent DNA sequences of genes known as BRCA1 and BRCA2, which are associated with the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers (see “U.S. Supreme Court Says ‘Natural’ Human Genes May Not Be Patented”). Hours after that decision was announced, other molecular-diagnostics companies announced that they would offer similar tests at a lower cost than Myriad’s test.

And now, the federal government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, is proposing to lower the amount of money it pays for the tests. The new rate is approximately half of what the agency has previously reimbursed, according to GenomeWeb. The announcement was followed by analyst downgrades on Myriad stock.   

CMS directly points to the Supreme Court decision in its announcement and notes that labs charge anywhere from $900 to $2,900 for the test. The new proposed reimbursement amount is $1,438. The proposal is likely to lead to lower costs for BRCA testing even when private insurance companies are paying for it, as these companies usually base their rates on those of Medicare, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Myriad is likely to be hardest hit by such price drops because 85 percent of the company’s revenue comes from BRCA testing, says the WSJ.

Is this a good deal for patients? With cheaper options available, it’s reasonable to think that more patients will have access to this testing. But as Robert Nussbaum wrote for MIT Technology Review, Myriad still has an “unparalleled record of the natural variation in these important genes.” Myriad’s competitors may offer more affordable tests, but they don’t have access Myriad’s private database linking DNA variations to disease outcomes, a wealth of information the company built up over the years when it monopolized BRCA testing. That’s why Nussbaum and colleagues are asking doctors to contribute such vital data for a free, public database that would help doctors interpret the potential effects of a patient’s BRCA sequences on their cancer risks.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

This nanoparticle could be the key to a universal covid vaccine

Ending the covid pandemic might well require a vaccine that protects against any new strains. Researchers may have found a strategy that will work.

How do strong muscles keep your brain healthy?

There’s a robust molecular language being spoken between your muscles and your brain.

The 1,000 Chinese SpaceX engineers who never existed

LinkedIn users are being scammed of millions of dollars by fake connections posing as graduates of prestigious universities and employees at top tech companies.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.