Myriad and the mass media: The covering of a gene patent controversy

Timothy Caulfield, Tania Bubela, C. J. Murdoch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


PURPOSE: We explore how the print media in four jurisdictions framed the controversy surrounding Myriad Genetic's BRCA patents and consider the possible influence of media on public perceptions and policy reform. METHOD: We used a broad search strategy to collect newspaper articles from Factiva and Lexis/Nexis on Myriad Genetics and the BRCA gene and identified the main triggers for those articles. We then selected articles on the BRCA gene patents for coding. The coding frame queried the presence or absence of either positive or negative statements about gene patenting and a subjective assessment of the tone of the article. We compared the differences in tone and number of positive and negative statements between jurisdictions (Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, and United States). RESULTS: Myriad Genetic's BRCA1/2 gene patents sparked significant international newspaper coverage in comparison to other stories on gene patenting controversies. Only 55.9% of 143 articles presented a variety of perspectives. The majority of articles (77.6%) had a negative overall tenor; only 6.29% had a positive overall tenor, whereas 16.1% were neutral. There were significant differences in the overall tenor between jurisdictions, with Canadian coverage being overwhelmingly negative in comparison with the other three jurisdictions. The main triggers for news coverage were largely local licensing deals, actions at regional patent offices, and statements and publications by prominent figures. CONCLUSION: Myriad's patents were largely portrayed as a negative story, except in Utah where Myriad Genetics is located, and as an example of the problems associated with gene patents. The story was primarily framed as a social dilemma that needed to be addressed. In Canada there was a disproportionate level of coverage of the political response to the threat of patent infringement action against government testing laboratories and potential impacts on public health care. In Europe and elsewhere in the United States, the opposition to gene patenting at the European Patent Office predominated. In these contexts, our data provide some support that the media coverage helped to drive the policy agenda, although the resultant policy response received almost no media attention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)850-855
Number of pages6
JournalGenetics in Medicine
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • BRCA
  • Breast cancer
  • Commercialization
  • Gene patents
  • Media
  • Myriad Genetics
  • Newspaper


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