Wednesday, August 27, 2014
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Angelina Jolie, breast cancer testing, Myriad Genetics and the Supreme Court

Movie star Angelina Jolie's revelation of having had a double mastectomy to help avoid breast cancer boosted the stock of the only company, Myriad Genetics, with a test for that gene.

Angelina Jolie, breast cancer testing, Myriad Genetics and the Supreme Court

Movie star Angelina Jolie's revelation Tuesday of having had a double mastectomy to help avoid breast cancer had business and legal angles.

Myriad Genetics, the Utah-based company at the center of a legal debate about the acceptability of gene patenting, has a monopoly on the testing Jolie had before opting for surgery. With the news of Jolie breaking in the morning, the company's stock rose to a three-year high of $34.70 during trading on the NASDAQ market on  Tuesday. The trading volume was also much higher, with 2.6 million shares exchanged, more than double the three-month daily average of 1.1 million shares.

Jolie explained her decision in an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, a link to which is here.

"The cost of testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2, at more than $3,000 in the United States, remains an obstacle for many women," Jolie wrote, referring to the genes. A mutation of the genes can indicate a greater chance of cancer.

Myriad spokesman Ron Rogers said Wednesday that while the company wished Jolie well and was pleased that she encouraged other women with family history of breast and ovarian cancer to get tested, Myriad disagreed with her on the cost being an obstacle. Rogers said insurance covers 95 percent of patients, albeit with a co-pay of about $100. For those without insurance, the company offers discounts and it provided 5,000 free tests in the last three years.

The Affordable Care Act will require insurers to cover such tests.

”Everyone who is at risk should absolutely go get the BRCA test,” Dr. Julie Kessel, Cigna’s senior medical director overseeing the coverage policy unit, was quoted as saying in a story on marketwatch. com. A link is here.

But women who couldn't afford the test in previous years, including one from Williamsport, were among the original plaintiffs in a lawsuit that is now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. The basic issue is whether Myriad - or any company or person - should be allowed to have a patent on a human gene. The Court heard oral arguments April 15 and is likely to issue a decision before the end of the current term in June. The appeal to the Supreme Court is here and Myriad Genetics' reply is here, via the American Bar Association. The Inquirer story on the topic is here.

Myriad's stock price had already risen in the last week, bolstered by its quarterly earnings report. The company is heavily dependent on the revenue from testing for these genes.

"Revenue from the BRACAnalysis ® test, which represented 74 percent of total revenue in the third quarter, was $115.4 million, a 9 percent increase over the same period of the prior year," Myriad said in its press release that accompanied its earnings report. A link to the press release is here.

Meanwhile, Monday's Supreme Court seed patent decision in favor of Monsanto in Bowman v. Monsanto et al., might have also been a factor. Marketwatch.com reported that William Blair analyst Amanda Murphy said in an email that she believes the Monsanto decision was a bigger factor in Tuesday's stock movement than Jolie's situation. Murphy said the court recognized the investment that companies like Monsanto have to make in research and development, and that issue was also discussed during oral arguments in the Myriad case.

See Monday's PhillyPharma for how that decision was supported by the biotech industry trade group. A link is here.

David Sell
About this blog
David Sell blogs about the region's pharmaceutical industry. Follow him on Facebook.

For Inquirer.com. Portions of this blog may also be found in the Inquirer's Sunday Health Section.

Reach David at dsell@phillynews.com.

David Sell
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