Home > Authors, Genetics, Joshua Snow, Politics, Technology, Transhumanism > Myriad Genetics: Accidental Geneware Revolution?

Myriad Genetics: Accidental Geneware Revolution?

Courtesy genengnews.com

Courtesy genengnews.com

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled today that genetic material taken from the human body cannot be patented. Some of you are sitting at home or work or on your phone in the car ignoring your mother’s rant about how your newest girlfriend is just as bad for you as all your others, and you’re reading this and thinking that the Court ruling should have been common sense, it wasn’t until today. And while it has some big repercussions, it really doesn’t change a damned thing.

Some good things are going to come out of this, though.  The court ruling bans patents on isolated DNA. Isolated DNA is genetic material extracted from an actual human being, (hopefully) alive and (probably) kicking. Part of the reason for this is to prevent what happened with Myriad Genetics, who discovered and patented two genes (BRCA1 & BRCA2, for you smart types) that are “indicative of breast cancer risk.” These two genes are naturally occurring phenomena, caused by billions of years of evolution, and the guys at Myriad Genetics found a legal way to get paid every time they got mentioned, as if they fucking inserted these cancer-buttons into humanity themselves.

Specifically, Myriad could, through intellectual property law, collect enough dinero off of testing for BRCA1 & 2 that patients going in for the procedure were usually paying around $3,500 USD. And they’re not the only company who’s patenting our natural genetic code.  There were about 4,000 of these patents running around, or about 40% of the human genome. It’s a strong business model in research and pharmaceutical fields, one that doesn’t seem to be going away because of this ruling. But we’ll get back to that in a second.

Opponents of these business practices hope this set a precedent for the Court to do the same thing to non-human gene patents as well. Millions of hippies and college kids are holding their collective breath, hoping a similar court ruling will knock the Monsanto business empire down a couple of notches. And the ruling did bring some good news for cancer patients. Previously, Myriad Genetics and similar companies had an incredible amount of control over the cost of testing for patented genes, and over what medical facilities could perform the tests. Labs that didn’t pay the patent-holders got shut down. This included tests for Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, heart conditions, and fucking leukemia. (Leukemia. The Biggest of the Big C’s. It’s the cancer that, you know, is on all those “my kid has cancer” commercials. It kills like 10,000 of the cute little tykes year.) Now, any facility with the equipment can test patients for these diseases, and likely for a lot less expense.

But in case you’re wondering, yea, people probably died because these jack-offs were worried about not getting credit for finding shit that nature put there in the first place. They’re basically bitching about a very complicated game of “Where’s Waldo?”, except in this one every time you refuse to pass the book to a classmate, somebody drops dead.

Where's Waldo? Right behind you, sucka. Courtesy thexenon.tumblr.com

Where’s Waldo? Right behind you, sucka.
Courtesy thexenon.tumblr.com

The ruling also means that researchers can’t stop other researchers from outpacing them in studies of newly found genes, which was the original point of genetic patenting. Say Dr. TurdSnurgler McThief finds a gene that causes one to be an annoying YouTube commenter, and patents his discovery. You hear about his finding and replicate his procedure, easily locating what we’ll call the YTard Gene. Before today, Dr. McThief would have used his patent on the TYard Gene to prevent you from going any further, meaning only Dr. McThief and those willing to pay him royalties would be allowed to search for a cure for annoying YouTube comments. Now, anyone can give Dr. McThief the finger and keep searching for the answer to the Internet’s worst personality disorder.

From this point on, this article gets really depressing. Like that one movie where Leonardo DiCaprio decides he’s been a tool to Kate Winslet and is going to make it up to her, but instead she slowly bleeds to death from a DIY abortion before he gets the chance? Yea, more depressing than that.

And none of these changes mean a damn thing. Remember how I said this business model wasn’t going away? Australia, that horrible death island (I mean seriously, can’t we just quarantine the whole fucking place? If it’s not deadly fauna, it’s psycho politicians), already ruled in Myriad’s favor. So yea, all those greedy bastards can just take their operations to Australia and continue as if nothing changed.  Companies that can’t make the move to places like Australia will die out once their patent-driven income dries up, and their employees aren’t going to go back to working for free.  Who’d expect them to, because they have kids of their own to feed. They’re going to jump ship to more profitable, sinister companies in countries that let them continue their shady patenting. Our only solace will be the knowledge that their Internet will be more censored than the TV version of Snakes on a Plane, and that dingoes will probably devour their children.

There’s more bad news, too. The SCOTUS ruling actually drove Myriad Genetics’ stocks up. By like 9.8%. In fact, most similar companies saw stock rises after the ruling, because of a couple of clauses.

Companies can still patent forms of a human’s genetic code that are definitely indicative of who might contract cancer. So if we ever do find a gene that’s holding a sign saying “I will fucking kill you deader than Amanda Bynes’ career,” it’s really not going to help us much, because the asshat that found it can and probably will patent it. With much fewer patents open to them for income, tests for the “BynesCancerGene” will probably cost as much as the Death Star.

This is the DeathStar I'll build you, Amanda. If you'll just stop being crazy. Courtesy twitgoo.com

This is the DeathStar I’ll build you, Amanda. If you’ll just stop being crazy.
Courtesy twitgoo.com

Another exception to the ruling says that synthetic genes are still up for patent. This “cDNA” cannot occur in nature without human interference, and is usually created in lab conditions outside of an organism. But this is the clause that might inadvertently change the world.

Follow me on this. I am EvilCorp, because I lack originality and the only thing honest about my business practices is the name of my company. I really want to make a fortune curing unibrow, because the CEO of EvilCorp has a brow woollier than Snuffleupagus, and was mercilessly bullied for it as child. I isolate the gene that causes unibrow, but can’t patent it. Sure, I can make money off potential unibrow cures, but not nearly as much as I would if I could charge people to test their children for crippling caterpillar foreheads. What do you do when you can’t build a damn, but you really need that river bed to dry up? Cut a new channel for the river.

Once you’ve isolated the unibrow gene, the clearest path to profit is developing gene therapy to do away with the offending condition. We haven’t proven to be very good at that kind of thing so far, but up until today there were much easier ways to get rich in human genetics. Now that patent-based profit windows are narrower, we’ll start seeing just how quickly money motivates. What I’m implying here, chummer, is that they’re going to have to follow the United States Department of Defense’s lead and start finding patented, profitable ways to alter human genetics.

Genetic tinkering raises its own long list of problems. What doesn’t? You could probably write a book, but it would be mostly full of cursing and unfulfilled dreams of being turned into the Hulk. The point I’m making here is that the Supreme Court just made genetic research for the sake of advancing medicine a lot less profitable, even if they did make it easier. That’s going to push some researchers and corporations towards the other end of the spectrum as they search for profits. Retrovirii to change eye color, increase muscle mass, extended sleep cycles—these are all possibilities that the Department of Defense and DARPA haven’t taken off the table for their projects. Why not find civilian markets, even if just among the 1%? Once one company does it well, others will jump in. And they’ll get better at what they do, and be able to perform increasingly radical alterations, because every business has to stay competitive in a fast-moving market.

I’m not saying they’ll be able to recreate the X-Men in a lab by Christmas, but I am saying that we may have just inadvertently pushed ourselves closer to a world of luxury genetic tinkering, given another decade or two. Of course, only the filthy stinking rich are going to be able to afford it, making them actually superior to the rest of us. Scientifically, verifiably,  genetically better than us. And as scary as it is, I’m kind of resigned to being okay with it, because even if they are evil dickholes, these companies want to make a buck same as everybody else.

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