Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from Genome Medicine and BioMed Central.

Journal App

google play app store
Open Access Highly Accessed Open debate

Constructing narratives of heroism and villainy: case study of Myriad's BRACAnalysis® compared to Genentech's Herceptin®

A Lane Baldwin and Robert Cook-Deegan*

Author Affiliations

Genome Ethics, Law & Policy, Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy, Duke University, Box 90141, 304 Research Drive, Durham, NC 27708-0141, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

Genome Medicine 2013, 5:8  doi:10.1186/gm412

Published: 31 January 2013

Abstract

Background

The development of Herceptin® is welcomed as a major advance in breast cancer treatment, while Myriad's development of BRACAnalysis® is a widely used diagnostic. However useful and successful this product is, its presence in the public eye is tainted by predominantly negative press about gene patenting and business practices.

Discussion

While retrospection invites a sharp contrast between Genentech's triumphal narrative of scientific achievement and Myriad's public image as a controversial monopolist, a comparative history of these companies' products reveals two striking consistencies: patents and public discontent. Despite these similarities, time has reduced the narrative to that of hero versus villain: Genentech is lauded - at least for the final outcome of the Herceptin® story - as a corporate good citizen, Myriad as a ruthless mercenary. Since patents undergird both products yet the narratives are so different, the stories raise the question: why have patents taken the fall as the scapegoat in current biotechnology policy debate?

Summary

A widely publicized lawsuit and accompanying bad press have cast Myriad as a villain in the evolving narrative of biotechnology. While the lawsuit suggests that this villainy is attributable to Myriad's intellectual property, we suggest through a comparative case study that, at least in the Myriad case, it is not simply about the patents but also other business strategies the company chose to pursue. Patents were a necessary but not sufficient cause of controversy.