Jolie's Decision Boosts BRCA Test-Maker Myriad

Angelina Jolie
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Angelina Jolie

Shares of genetic test maker Myriad Genetics rose as much as 4 percent on Tuesday after actress Angelina Jolie detailed her decision to undergo radical double-mastectomy. The decision followed testing which showed she carried the BRCA gene for breast cancer.

Jolie detailed her decision in an op-ed in The New York Times, writing, "I carry a 'faulty' gene, BRCA1, which sharply increases my risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer." Jolie, whose mother died of breast cancer, said she chose to have her breasts removed to reduce exposure.

Myriad makes the BRACAnalysis predictive test for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer which screens for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Its shares are up 19 percent year-to-date.

In an e-mailed statement, a Myriad spokesperson said "we encourage patients to speak with their health-care providers about their hereditary risk of cancer. We strongly believe appropriate use of many of our diagnostic tests can help reduce illness, hospitalizations and other costly interventions, and potentially lower health-care costs."

The spokesperson adds that under the Affordable Care Act, more popularly known as Obamacare, BRCA testing will be fully covered under preventive care provisions for those who are at risk. Patients at risk will not be responsible for co-pays for the cancer screening.

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Cancer care specialists say for those who are at risk for carrying the BRCA gene insurance will generally cover the cost. Without insurance, the screening can cost as much as $3,000 per test.

While the effectiveness of screening for those potentially at risk is not in question, Myriad's patent claims on the BRCA genes that led to the BRCAnalysis test are now at the heart of a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court heard oral arguments last month on the question of whether a single gene can be patented. The case is being closely watched by the biotech and pharmaceutical industries.

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Myriad holds exclusive rights to claims in two dozen patents worldwide based on the BRCA genes. The company patented its discovery after isolating the genes in the 1990s and developing the test for a genetic marker. The genetic test maker argues its isolation of the molecules and their application are comparable to a the development of a new chemical because the gene itself does not detect cancer.

Plaintiffs, including the Association for Molecular Pathology, the Public Patent Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union assert that a single gene is not patentable, and that Myriad is simply using products of nature.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule in the case later this year.

—By CNBC's Bertha Coombs.