Cancer testing could get cheaper and more prevalent as the Supreme Court decision that DNA sequences cannot be patented opens up breast and ovarian cancer diagnostics, though experts warn that not all tests may be created equal. The most immediate effect of the ruling – that Myriad Genetics could not patent the BRCA1 and BRCA2 DNA sequences – has been a rush of other testing vendors announcing they’ll be offering competition in the segment, but the US government is also wading in with talk that it will potentially halve what reimbursement it offers for cancer testing.
According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the move – which would cut the cap on payments for BRCA tests to $1,438 – is a direct response to the Supreme Court’s ruling. Although the proposal is still to go through public feedback, the CMS argues that since more than one lab will now be able to process the tests, the likelihood is that they will fall in price.
That will presumably mean more accessible cancer testing, which will hopefully reduce the number of “surprise” cases where Myriad Genetics’ tests were priced out of reach for some patients. The lab charged as much as $2,700 for a test for the two genes, but has seen its stock price tumble dramatically following the decision.
Several rival firms announced they would offer their own tests, including Ambry Genetics and DNATraits, some of which already do the screening outside of the US, where the squashed Myriad Genetics patents did not apply. According to the WSJ, as much as 85-percent of Myriad Genetics’ revenue has been from BRCA testing.
Not every test is handled the same way, however, and as MIT Technology Review highlights, there’s more to the screening than just the core identification. What Myriad still holds is its DNA database, the site points out, compiled of links between results and diseases over the course of its monopoly.
As a result, the conclusions drawn from testing may end up varying depending on which company performs the analysis, possibly introducing new confusions into the process. Myriad is yet to comment on the more prominent role its rivals will be playing moving forward, though an SEC filing this week by the company did voice concerns about the CMS’ change in repayment policies, and confirm that it would be challenging the reduction in maximum payments.