Benefits Of Synthetic Blood Could Be Squandered Thanks To Patents

from the bloody-shame dept

Two of the key arguments during the Myriad Genetics trial were that gene patent monopolies stifle innovation by preventing others from building on and extending key knowledge, and that they can cause unnecessary suffering and even death by driving up prices for medical treatment beyond the reach of many people. Even though the Supreme Court struck down Myriad's key patents, reducing those issues for DNA, a new technology with major ramifications for health runs the risk of suffering from precisely the same problems.

In this case, we're talking about synthetic blood. Researchers based at the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine (SCRM) in Edinburgh have been granted a license to use stem cells to manufacture blood. As an article in The Scotsman explains, the potential benefits are huge:

If scientists succeed in producing blood from stem cells it could help overcome the recurring problem of shortages from donations, which often lead to appeals for donors of certain blood groups to come forward.

Producing blood products on an industrial scale could help provide supplies for use in hospitals, as well as in war zones and at the scene of accidents.

It would also combat the risk of new infections being transmitted between donors and recipients -- a major concern as new diseases emerge before tests can be developed to identify them in blood supplies.
But as Wired reports, there's a problem:
If the researchers at the SCRM choose to patent their technology … they could stand to make a fortune off the stuff -- and destroy a lot of potential future research in the process.
Just as happened with Myriad. And Wired identifies another big issue here:
the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine will produce synthetic blood for the trials using induced pluripotent stem cells -- adult cells that can be forced to act like embryotic stem cells. That means they'll need stem cell donors as well as, later on, transfusion recipients, and neither of those come free.

"Most clinical trials offer some compensation," said Benjamin. "They don't call it payment; they consider it a stipend, 'to offset the burden of participating.' That means that, for the most part, people who are well off are not participating. People signing up on websites for clinical trials are often working-class men [and] men of color."
As the article goes on to explore, this raises numerous ethical issues in terms of exploiting those who might find it harder to resist the promise of such payments for taking part in the necessary clinical trials. But maybe there's a way of addressing both of these problems.

Not all clinical trials offer compensation, because people are often willing to help without payment in order to benefit society as a whole. Indeed, one of the strongest arguments for making clinical trial information freely available is that it is largely the result of members of the public agreeing to take part in trials for precisely this reason -- not in order to boost the profits of some pharmaceutical company that keeps the results for itself. That suggests one way of encouraging people to become stem cell donors and transfusion recipients would be to promise that the results based on their participation will be made freely available for all scientists and companies to use. In other words, that no patents would be taken out on key discoveries.

And for those who think that it is unreasonable to expect scientists not to patent their work, Wired reminds us of a famous counter-example:

as [Polio vaccine] inventor Jonas Salk told a reporter in 1955 when asked who owned the patent for his discovery, "Well, the people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?"
Or DNA? Or human blood...?

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Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jul 19th, 2013 @ 12:01am

    One would think the original bloodsuckers, lawyers, would be all over trying to lock this down.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 19th, 2013 @ 1:42am

    "Could you patent the sun?" I'm sure there are people out there ruthless enough to try.

    I know darryl would.

     

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  3.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jul 19th, 2013 @ 2:34am

    Re:

    I think she copyrighted it and IIRC she lives in Spain.

     

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  4.  
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    Miff (profile), Jul 19th, 2013 @ 2:55am

    Can't you get a patent on someone else's discovery if they didn't patent it first? Isn't that what happened with MP4?

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 19th, 2013 @ 3:17am

    Re: Re:

    No, darryl is confirmed to be a "he" who lives in Australia. He also claims to have above average intelligence, entitling him to gleefully cheer on any initiative that restricts the flow of culture and entertainment into Australia (restricted and limited as it already is), in addition to being an ex-fireman and solar panel engineer.

    Much of the above description is shrouded in doubt. No self-respecting Australian with a modicum of intelligence would communicate in such atrocious butchering of English.

     

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  6.  
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    Ninja (profile), Jul 19th, 2013 @ 3:53am

    Patents in drugs or anything related to health generally enrich a few at the expense of screwing the poor and often deaths. I have yet to see real benefits from the patent system...

     

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  7.  
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    yaga (profile), Jul 19th, 2013 @ 4:42am

    Re:

    When people actually tried to make something with their patent and when patents were very limited in terms of years granted and what could be patented, I think they had a small benefit. Even now, if they were used properly, I think they would have a small initial benefit if the patent was held by a small company. But I definitely agree with you that most patents concerning drugs are doing more harm than good.

     

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  8.  
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    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), Jul 19th, 2013 @ 4:52am

    Re: Re:

    I agree - I'm not completely convinced of the "it encourages people to invest" argument but I can see the point. Something like granting patents or exclusive licensing rights or whatever for, say, 2 or 3 years after approval for clinical use would serve both purposes as well as encourage research into things truly new as such things would be the ones more likely to make heaps of money in that window over the current crop of "me too" drugs.

     

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  9.  
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    AndyD273 (profile), Jul 19th, 2013 @ 7:10am

    Precident

    It seems like this is close enough to the DNA case that the same principle could apply... Patent their specific process for creating it, but not the blood itself.

    That way others could do research, and perhaps come up with other ways to create the same thing more efficiently, but if a company wants to build a blood factory, investing millions in equipment, then they could simply license the equipment. And if it works out good, then a second company could also license the equipment, and so on and so forth until supply meets demand and a fair price emerges.

    One nice thing about artificial blood is that there is already competition in place; donors that will go in and lay on a table for a bit in exchange for a couple cookies and the knowledge that they are helping someone that is in need.
    In theory, we already have the network of donors in place to meet our needs (In the US at least, probably most other places as well) and so aside from the obvious benefit of being disease free this blood will mostly be taking up the slack, meaning if they start selling it to high then no one will buy it.

    Plus, if this process uses a lot of adult stem cells, then I can see this as another opportunity for poor college students to make some money, aside from selling plasma.

     

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  10. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    staff, Jul 19th, 2013 @ 7:29am

    more dissembling by Masnick

    Bloody dissembling.

    If not for patents, firms will not spend the research dollars to create and discover new technologies. They would be doing the research for others for free because once known everyone else would simply copy and the creator would be driven to bankruptcy.

    These are mere dissemblings by China, huge multinational thieves and their paid puppets -some masquerading as reporters, some in Congress, the White House and elsewhere in the federal government. They have already damaged the American patent system so that property rights are teetering on lawlessness. Simply put, their intent is to legalize theft -to twist and weaken the patent system so it can only be used by them and no one else. Then they can steal at will and destroy their small competitors AND WITH THEM THE JOBS THEY WOULD HAVE CREATED. Meanwhile, the huge multinationals ship more and more American jobs to China and elsewhere overseas.

    Do you know how to make a Stradivarius violin? Neither does anyone else. Why? There was no protection for creations in his day so he like everyone else protected their creations by keeping them secret. Civilization has lost countless creations and discoveries over the ages for the same reason. Think we should get rid of or weaken patent rights? Think again.

    Most important for America is what the patent system does for America’s economy. Our founders: Jefferson, Franklin, Madison and others felt so strongly about the rights of inventors that they included inventors rights to their creations and discoveries in the Constitution. They understood the trade off. Inventors are given a limited monopoly and in turn society gets the benefits of their inventions (telephone, computer, airplane, automobile, lighting, etc) into perpetuity and the jobs the commercialization of those inventions bring. For 200 years the patent system has not only fueled the American economy, but the world’s. If we weaken the patent system we force inventors underground like Stradivarius and in turn weaken our economy and job creation. For a robust economy America depends on a strong patent system accessible to all -large and small, not the watered down weak system the large multinationals and China are foisting on America.

    For the truth, please see http://www.truereform.piausa.org/
    https://www.facebook.com/pi.ausa.5
    http://piausa.wordpress.com/
    http://www.hoover.org/publications/defining-ideas/article/142741
    http://cpip.gmu.edu/2013/03/15/t he-shield-act-when-bad-economic-studies-make-bad-laws/

     

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  11.  
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    AC Unknown (profile), Jul 19th, 2013 @ 7:40am

    Re: more dissembling by Masnick

    I call shenanigans.

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 19th, 2013 @ 8:16am

    Re: more dissembling by Masnick

    Oh good, another screed yanked straight from the playbook in the fantasy land where the patent system actually accomplishes what it is ostensibly supposed to do.

    The patent system does not protect independent, small, or weak inventors. It protects incumbents from competition.

     

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  13.  
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    fb39ca4 (profile), Jul 19th, 2013 @ 9:07am

    The patent system is the set-everyone-else-back-20-years system.

     

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  14.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jul 19th, 2013 @ 10:27am

    Re: more dissembling by Masnick

    Just because you don't agree with someone does not mean they're lying.

     

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

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 19th, 2013 @ 5:51pm

    Re: more dissembling by Masnick

    Our founders: Jefferson, Franklin, Madison and others felt so strongly about the rights of inventors that they included inventors rights to their creations and discoveries in the Constitution.

    And once more you lie. Why do you keep trying to perpetuate the myth? Patents (and copyright) are NOT protected or included in the Constitution. The right of Congress to enact laws to cover such things is. If it was so important to the founders, why didn't they just make the law themselves? Because they did not agree that it was so important! Many of them, in fact, believed that it would prove to be harmful. I'd suggest doing more research, because you bring this sort of argument here and you just look foolish and uneducated.

     

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  16.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jul 20th, 2013 @ 3:31am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Actually I was referring to a woman in Spain who actually copyrighted the sun.

    The story was here IIRC...

     

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  17.  
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    Sheogorath (profile), Jul 20th, 2013 @ 2:47pm

    Re: more dissembling by Masnick

    Patents (and copyright) are NOT protected or included in the Constitution. The right of Congress to enact laws to cover such things is.
    Sorry, 'staff', but the AC I quoted above has you there. To paraphrase Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the US Constitution: The Congress shall have Power To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.
    To further paraphrase: Congress shall have the ability to promote human progress by enacting laws that secure time limited monopolies on the stuff people create.
    I pulled the info from this webpage, so if you're gonna argue, argue with that.

     

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  18.  
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    Johnny Shade (profile), Jul 23rd, 2013 @ 8:34am

    Re: more dissembling by Masnick

    "Do you know how to make a Stradivarius violin? Neither does anyone else. Why? There was no protection for creations in his day so he like everyone else protected their creations by keeping them secret."

    Actually, if you bother to do a little research and learn a bit ("http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stradivarius" for a start), the reason that Stradivarius is so well regarded is the perception that he was a master craftsman who used his knowledge of wood and technique to craft a violin with superior sound generation characteristics.
    As the above referenced article shows, the Stradivari have been rather heavily studied to determine just what exactly makes them so special. This research has been somewhat inconclusive. It's not as if the family "invented" a process that produced superior violins.
    They just knew how to build them based on techniques and information that had been and were in general circulation, The fact that it seems like some sort of mysterious "knowledge" that they alone had is merely a reflection of a lack of understanding of the actual process.
    Your comment about, "we force inventors underground like Stradivarius", in view of real, factual understanding and information is rather weak.
    I do believe in patents. They do, as you noted, serve a purpose. However, the issue is not patents, but the flaws in the governing system that permit it to be abused and twisted, thereby damaging it's usefulness.
    I do appreciate the link to the Professional Inventors Alliance and will be giving it a more studied look.
    However, while skimming the page on "True Reform", I did see "The Constitution guarantees inventors exclusive rights to their inventions. There is no requirement that the inventor commercialize the invention."
    This is true, however, have you contemplated the possibility of abusive scenarios inherent in the second line?
    It's not actually a bad post, once you filter out the knee jerk reactive tone. I believe that you are capable of creating honest, productive discussion as long as you avoid the whole "us vs them" mentality trap.
    Once again, I thank you for the link and I look forward to being able to actually sit and study it. My first skim did show me a number of points that I am, at least, in sympathy with

     

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


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