Myriad and OncorMed and the Marketing of the First Genetic Tests for Breast Cancer Susceptibility

By Margaret Eaton, Rebecca Farkas, Daniel Greenwald
2005 | Case No. BME3
Two companies, Myriad Genetics and OncorMed, were competing to develop a genetic test for breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility. Although the two companies had offered genetic testing only to women who participated in their research studies, in 1995, both were considering selling their testing services to physicians generally. Despite the promising market for this testing service, some scientists and patient activist groups believed that it was premature to provide testing outside of a carefully controlled research environment where data could be collected on an ongoing basis to answer significant questions about the health consequences of genetic mutations and the potential benefits and risks of testing. Specifically, they argued that commercialization should wait because knowledge about inherited predisposition to breast cancer was still emerging, and medical care options for mutation carriers were limited and not proven to be of benefit. In addition, data on the psychological and social effects on women who were tested were still evolving. Those in favor of restricting such testing to the research setting wanted laws in place to protect individuals from irresponsible testing practices, loss of privacy, and genetic discrimination. This case details the decisions that Myriad and OncorMed made regarding their testing services and how the two companies addressed the concerns of those outside the company. While this case is intended for a class on ethics or biomedical ethics or any course dealing with the biotechnology industry, it can also be used to teach about the management difficulties associated with marketing a product when the underlying understanding of the technology is still evolving.
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