KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: Editorial Boards Offer Advice To Supreme Court On Gene Patents

The New York Times: Are Human Genes Patentable?
On Monday, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear argument about that decision in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics. The petitioners in the case — doctors, scientific researchers and women’s health organizations — argue that the isolated genes are not materially different from genes before extraction, and that allowing Myriad a patent on them would allow the patenting of nature itself, at untold cost to scientific research, medical treatment and patients (4/14). 

The Washington Post: Patents On Human DNA Need Congress's Input
Balancing the benefits of free-flowing research against the value of mobilizing private money to detangle genetic code is a hard policy call that Congress should make. Myriad mounts a good case that refusing to offer gene patents would endanger billions invested in U.S. genetics research, plowed into the field on the assumption that companies could obtain patents. The company has reason to say that its work, though profit-motivated, has brought major progress to women’s health. That's why the rest of the industrialized world allows gene patents, too (4/15).

USA Today: Myriad Reasons To Block Gene Patents
The law here seems simple, allowing patents for "anything under the sun that is made by man," to quote a phrase from an earlier Supreme Court decision. But the question of what's man-made is much harder. Myriad Genetics says its work in isolating the BRCA genes created something man-made and patentable. Myriad's critics say — correctly, in our view — that's like patenting elements in the periodic table or claiming that a kidney could be patented once it's removed from the body for transplant. By locking up the BRCA genes and making its $3,340 test the only one doctors can use without the company's permission, Myriad stifles independent scientific inquiry and the sort of competition that might produce better or cheaper tests (4/14). 

USA Today: Myriad Genetics: Patents Save Lives, Aid Innovation
Monday, the Supreme Court will hear a challenge to patents issued to us that were essential for the creation of those tests. Our tests have been used by more than 1 million women to determine whether they are at increased risk of developing hereditary breast, colon, uterine and ovarian cancer. There are several misconceptions about this case. We did not patent the genes in anyone's body. That is not possible under U.S. patent law. Instead, we patented our own discoveries — the synthetic molecules we isolated and created in the lab to provide life-saving tests (Peter D. Meldrum, 4/14).

Roll Call: Capretta: Medicaid Overhaul Must Focus On Long-Term Care
Congressional Republicans want to convert Medicaid into a block grant — an idea the Obama administration strongly opposes. The federal government would provide fixed levels of funding to the states, and the states would be given the freedom to manage the program with fewer federal restrictions (James C. Capretta, 4/12).

The Wall Street Journal: The White House Brain Initiative Hits A Tax Hurdle
Step into any operating room where neurosurgery is being performed, and there is a good chance that the surgeon is viewing the brain through a camera. Technology today is saving lives by enabling surgeons to see what the naked eye cannot. As archeologists use advanced radar technology to examine sensitive sites before excavating, neurosurgeons use advanced imaging technology to get a clear picture of the brain before operating. The data are then loaded into microscopes that guide surgery, providing a safer path through the brain's intricate wiring, where one wrong cut risks paralyzing the patient (Gregory Sorensen, 4/14). 

Los Angeles Times: Barlow Hospital's Overreach
To finance a new facility near the site of the old one, the hospital wants to sell 19 acres of its land to a developer to create a high-density residential development of about 600 units. And to make that happen, administrators have said they will seek massive changes in the zoning and land-use designations of the property. Getting those city approvals, which will allow the hospital to sell the land at a high price, is the only thing that stands between life and death for the hospital, its chief executive, Margaret Crane, contends. If the hospital can't raise what it needs from a sale, she says, it will go out of business. As regrettable as it would be if Barlow were to close, that possibility does not justify an upheaval of the zoning and land-use plans for the Silver Lake, Echo Park and Elysian Valley area — the community plan for which was updated nine years ago (4/14).

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