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Harvard Research Scientist: Sharing Discoveries More Efficient, More Honorable Than Patenting Them

from the my-hero dept

Meet Jay Bradner, Harvard research scientist, who disovered a promising molecule that may represent a step forward in the fight against cancer and decided to put science before fortune, because he's a human being. Oh, and also because he suggests that going the patent route would be less efficient and less honorable.
Two years ago, after Jay Bradner made a remarkable breakthrough—the discovery of a molecule that, in mice, appeared to trick certain cancer cells into becoming normal cells—he did something unusual. Instead of huddling with lawyers to file for a patent on the molecule, Bradner simply gave his work away. Hoping to get the discovery into the hands of any scientist who could advance it, he published the structure of the compound (called JQ1) and mailed samples to labs around the world. The move, he says, felt like “the more efficient way to do science—and maybe the more honorable way.”
More efficient. More honorable. It's a small example of the potential destruction for both prongs of the pro-patent argument. If it makes science more efficient to not patent, there goes promoting the progress. If it's more honorable, there goes the moral argument. And, unlike some pharma companies, I'm not even going to make patents the key point here: Bradner's focus is on helping people. Do we get the same sense from the crowd patenting their drugs, their medical diagnostic techniques, and anything else they can get their hands on?

Now, lest you write this off as some minor discovery that Bradner made, this molecule would likely have made him a great deal of money.
The monopoly on developing the molecule that Bradner walked away from would likely have been worth a fortune (last year, the median value for U.S.-based biotech companies was $370 million). Now four companies are building on his discovery—which delights Bradner, who this year released four new molecules. “For years, drug discovery has been a dark art performed behind closed doors with the shades pulled,” he says. “I would be greatly satisfied if the example of this research contributed to a change in the culture of drug discovery.”
This puts Bradner firmly on my hero list. Here's hoping he succeeds in helping to change the biomedical culture.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Nov 15th, 2012 @ 12:29pm

    Wake up and smell the reality

    "Now four companies are building on his discovery—"

    Can't wait for the arguments about how this research would never be funded unless the company doing it can patent and monopolize the result.

     

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  2.  
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    RonKaminsky (profile), Nov 15th, 2012 @ 1:08pm

    Well, they can?

    > unless the company doing it can patent and
    > monopolize the result.

    IIRC, if the companies involved are modifying the drug in even minor ways (chemically), they almost certainly will be able to get patents on the "new" chemicals.

     

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  3.  
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    out_of_the_blue, Nov 15th, 2012 @ 1:24pm

    Laws are for the dishonorable.

    Ya got me there, Timmy. However, you haven't disposed of the moral argument just because this one fellow is magnaminous. The moral case is forever that Bradner can dispose of his invention any way that HE chooses, but that all others have no inherent right to profit (monetarily) from it. Besides that, "less honorable" to profit from it doesn't make it DIS honorable to do so...

    As to more efficient: remains to be seen. I can imagine circumstances in which the profit motive gets this developed more quickly...


    [Let's take as premise that orthographic spelling is honorable and promotes civilization. Yet you use these characters: "distruction". -- Were you going for "destruction" or "distraction"? Cause either might work. Or just going for logoplex?]

     

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  4.  
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    Richard (profile), Nov 15th, 2012 @ 1:49pm

    Re: Laws are for the dishonorable.

    I can imagine circumstances in which the profit motive gets this developed more quickly...

    But never as quickly as the motivation of saving a life...

     

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  5.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Nov 15th, 2012 @ 1:52pm

    Re: Laws are for the dishonorable.

    "However, you haven't disposed of the moral argument just because this one fellow is magnaminous. The moral case is forever that Bradner can dispose of his invention any way that HE chooses, but that all others have no inherent right to profit (monetarily) from it."

    You're only telling one side of the story and arguably the less important side. If we accept that morality is a social construct (which I do) and is thus to be viewed primarily from the standpoint of greater society (which it should), then the proper frame for the moral argument is what is moral for SOCIETY, not the individual creator. In the case of biomedical patents, there is no moral argument for creation and patent, because this case shows that the moral goal of helping the sick is better obtained through free sharing and without the patent. I'd argue you're mis-framing the moral argument entirely.

    "As to more efficient: remains to be seen. I can imagine circumstances in which the profit motive gets this developed more quickly..."

    That's only the case if you believe creation won't happen without the patent. While this is but one example, it is a testament to it's possible falsity.

    "[Let's take as premise that orthographic spelling is honorable and promotes civilization. Yet you use these characters: "distruction". -- Were you going for "destruction" or "distraction"? Cause either might work. Or just going for logoplex?]"

    While your premise that spelling has anything to do with reality, you're absolutely correct that I misspelled "destruction", so thanks for pointing it out. I'll edit to correct that momentarily.

     

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  6.  
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    Richard (profile), Nov 15th, 2012 @ 1:58pm

    Re: Re: Laws are for the dishonorable.

    I'll edit to correct that momentarily.

    I think you mean "in a moment". "Momentarily" has a slightly different meaning...

     

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  7.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Nov 15th, 2012 @ 2:02pm

    Re: Re: Re: Laws are for the dishonorable.

    God damned English language....

     

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  8.  
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    CarrotandStick, Nov 15th, 2012 @ 2:03pm

    That said...

    While Bradner's actions are worthy of all of the high fives on the planet ever, there is an argument to be made for time-limited patents on private pharma research as an incentive. Timed patents allow the company to generate a return on investment before the research becomes public domain. Whether this method serves the betterment of our species and society more effectively than an open method is a long and complicated debate.
    However, the above should in no way detract from Jay Bradner's eligibility for a Nobel Prize in being GODDAMN AWESOME.

     

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  9.  
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    Kelly (profile), Nov 15th, 2012 @ 2:13pm

    This really is awesome. This guy has earned my respect forever. Let's hope that more researchers do things like this so that diseases like cancer become nothing more than a bad memory.

     

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  10.  
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    BentFranklin (profile), Nov 15th, 2012 @ 2:25pm

    He could have patented is and licensed it for a very low price. That might have protected it from scavengers.

    Is there a patent version of the GPL?

     

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  11.  
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    weneedhelp (profile), Nov 15th, 2012 @ 2:37pm

    Re:

    Or just not enforce it. I think he should have patented and let the world know no action would be taken for building on it.

     

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  12.  
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    Loki, Nov 15th, 2012 @ 2:57pm

    Re: Re:

    Unfortunately, we've had way to many cases of people/companies making that claim and either backpedaling later, or selling the patent to someone who doesn't hold to the creators promises.

     

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  13.  
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    bob, Nov 15th, 2012 @ 2:58pm

    Well, if only they gave away tuition....

    Have you checked to see how expensive tuition is at Harvard? Have you looked at the tax loopholes that are given just to educational institutions like Harvard? Have you looked at the sizes of the grants given to Harvard?

    It's very easy to be magnanimous and give away a few ideas when you're so filthy rich. Yet many others at the place patent things in order to get even richer.

     

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  14.  
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    Loki, Nov 15th, 2012 @ 3:01pm

    It is pretty much an established fact (for anyone who really want to look at all the data) that the majority of American medicine and science these days has very little to do with either efficiency or morality. It's all about maximizing profits, for the most part. That pharmaceutical companies, most especially, only care about treatment of illness or injuries, not finding actual cures.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 15th, 2012 @ 3:23pm

    Re: That said...

    No. Fuck that noise.

    Signed,
    One of the Two Cancer Patients in my household.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 15th, 2012 @ 3:31pm

    Re: Well, if only they gave away tuition....

    Tuition is not for research...
    In Europe we have a first to file. Guess what happens when he doesn't patent it here?
    As for economy, the "publicly funded research" patent is problematic in its own ways, by taking a patent screening and therefore economy devoted to research away from the admittedly huge grants. It is very few of the discoveries actually getting patented and being worth it to license is an even further obstacle.
    As for being rich you should really look at your wording since rich university is not the same as rich researcher (though "rich" researcher does equate rich university to some extend).

     

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  17.  
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    farooge (profile), Nov 15th, 2012 @ 5:19pm

    it's sad that I feel compelled to say this, but ...

    ... thanks man.

    One would think Dr. Borlaug would also have some nice words for him if he was still with us.

     

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  18.  
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    Laroquod (profile), Nov 15th, 2012 @ 5:38pm

    Patent-Lefting?

    Is there a such thing as a GPL-like patent process? If not, shouldn't there be?

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 15th, 2012 @ 6:33pm

    Re:

    Agreed. Getting this information into as many hands as possible who can do what they want with it can only accelerate treatment improvements.

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 15th, 2012 @ 9:30pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Laws are for the dishonorable.

    mo·men·tar·i·ly/ˌmōmənˈte(ə)rəlē/
    Adverb:
    For a very short time.
    At any moment; very soon.

     

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  21.  
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    The eejit (profile), Nov 15th, 2012 @ 11:46pm

    Re: That said...

    Well, considering that over 40% of medical patents are based on techniques/drugs developed at universities, FUCK THAT SHIT.

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 16th, 2012 @ 5:41am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Laws are for the dishonorable.

    Technically, the word "momentarily" means for a very short time, while "presently" means in a very short time. Carlin has a rant about it in one of his books ending with something like, "I'm going to walk over there presently, and after pausing momentarily, kick you in the nuts."

    But the usage of "momentarily" to mean "presently" is almost 100 years old in both America and the UK. It's even listed on the non-errors page of Common Errors in English at: http://public.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/nonerrors.html#momentarily

    “The plane will be landing momentarily” says the flight attendant, and the grumpy grammarian in seat 36B thinks to himself, “So we’re going to touch down for just a moment?” Everyone else thinks, “Just a moment now before we land.” Back in the 1920s when this use of “momentarily” was first spreading on both sides of the Atlantic, one might have been accused of misusing the word, but by now it’s listed without comment as one of the standard definitions in most dictionaries.


    That page is usually good enough to refute all but the most stubborn of prescriptivists. It's a good personal reference too.

     

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  23.  
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    Michael, Nov 16th, 2012 @ 6:47am

    Re: That said...

    "there is an argument to be made for time-limited patents on private pharma research as an incentive"

    And this is the argument that the patent system was based on. That nobody would invest in the research and development necessary to create unless they could have a monopoly for a short period that they could use to recoup their investment and then make a profit.

    However, as this and many other examples shows - there are lots of other motivations that may make the patent system entirely unnecessary. Remember, the patent system is a trade-off. The public trades the right to copy an invention for a short period to give inventors an incentive. If the inventors already have an incentive, isn't it better for society to not give up their rights?

     

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  24.  
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    ArkieGuy (profile), Nov 16th, 2012 @ 8:21am

    What a novel concept....

    Now if someone could do something like that with software - you know, do the work and share it with the world so others could use / improve it..... Oh wait, we do have that - it's called Open Source. ;)

     

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  25.  
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    art guerrilla (profile), Nov 16th, 2012 @ 10:42am

    and i thought decency, humanity, and generosity were dead...

    Jay Bradner = last decent human on the planet

    (filed under sad but apparently true)

    art guerrilla
    aka ann archy
    eof

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 16th, 2012 @ 11:32am

    Re: Re: Re:

    This is true. On the other hand, the US patent system is now first-to-file, not first-to-invent, meaning that any one of those pharma companies could now patent the molecule without Bradner's knowledge or consent.

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 16th, 2012 @ 12:14pm

    Re: Laws are for the dishonorable.

    If laws are for the dishonourable, and you keep insisting that piracy is illegal because it's the law, ergo you are one who follows the law to the letter, by extension meaning that laws are for you...

    Well. That speaks volumes about you, don't it, out_of_the_ass?

     

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  28.  
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    staff, Nov 16th, 2012 @ 1:54pm

    more dissembling by Masnick

    "disovered a promising molecule that may represent a step forward"

    The operative word is MAY. Maybe it will, maybe it won't. Either way he still gets paid. Many inventors do not have that luxury. We need patents to help us get funded to continue our work to bring our discoveries to completion and to market. Without patents we can't get funding.

    Masnick and his monkeys have an unreported conflict of interest-
    https://www.insightcommunity.com/cases.php?n=10&pg=1

    They sell blog filler and "insights" to major corporations including MS, HP, IBM etc. who just happen to be some of the world’s most frequent patent suit defendants. Obviously, he has failed to report his conflicts as any reputable reporter would. But then Masnick and his monkeys are not reporters. They are hacks representing themselves as legitimate journalists receiving funding from huge corporate infringers. They cannot be trusted and have no credibility. All they know about patents is they don’t have any.

    http://truereform.piausa.org/default.html#pt.

     

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  29.  
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    Vic Kley, Nov 16th, 2012 @ 3:06pm

    Bradner seems a real mensch!

    Yes Bradner seems a man sweet of heart indeed.

    Yet not a word from Bradner about patents, no he does not seem to be anti-patent. My bet is if he heard that someone struggled to create a new thing with little or no pay he would agree that person should be paid for their work JUST AS JAY BRADNER was paid by Harvard to find his new molecules.

    Only Masnick, his clients and his henchmen think inventors shouldn't be compensated. Only Masnick would be low enough to use this good man's good act as an argument to destroy the law that protects inventors from unlimited predation by the greedy and predatory.

    By the way I also think it impressive that Harvard lets Jay dispose of this valuable technology at his discretion rather then insist on some portion of ownership (like most state Universities).

     

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  30.  
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    jtp, Nov 16th, 2012 @ 3:17pm

    Re: more dissembling by Masnick

    >implying a site linked in the upper-right corner of the web page is "unreported"

    Also, am I the only one that finds it funny 'staff' waits a day after each patent-related article to plug his copy-pasted insults / self-promotion?

     

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  31.  
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    jtp, Nov 16th, 2012 @ 3:31pm

    Re: Bradner seems a real mensch!

    >implying "the law that protects inventors from unlimited predation by the greedy and predatory" doesn't also enable 'the greedy and predatory' to abuse the system

     

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  32.  
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    vbk, Nov 16th, 2012 @ 7:48pm

    JTP=nada Bradner seems a real mensch!

    Implying nothing at all. I said what I meant.

    I think the patent law and system can be fixed to deal with the worst abuses from strong arm thieves like MS, and Apple, and from abusive patent owners like MS and Apple (just ask Samsung).

    In the repair process the smallest entities can get the kind of fee structure and especially maintenance structure they need to do the thing they do best. Bringing to life completely new things can easily take ten to fifteen years and in todays environment after being forced to break a single patent app in 10 to 50 separate patents we can be talking about $50,000 to $100,000 in small entity maintenance fees. Now the choice is likely to break the bank in the small entity.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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