Indian Scientists Refuse To Patent Tuberculosis Genome, Encourage Anyone To Make The Drugs

from the good-for-them dept

We recently wrote about the pharmaceutical industry in India, noting that it had been thriving prior to foreign pharma lobbyists pressuring India through international trade agreements to change its patent laws to cover pharmaceuticals. As usually happens when we write about examples like this, some patent supporters in the comments insisted that no Indian research could possibly result in serious drug breakthroughs without patents (apparently those who write this are unfamiliar with Jonas Salk’s opinions on patents in reference to the polio vaccine he created: “Could you patent the sun?”)

So it’s nice to see that even now that India does allow patents on pharma (and, as we noted in the original story, Indian patent laws have been abused by foreign pharma firms in order to jack up prices on commonly used medicines), some Indian scientists have mapped out the tuberculosis genome, which should help creating new drugs that can help respond to that disease.

But rather than rushing to the patent office, the scientists are freeing up the research through an open source effort:

“What we have not done so far has been achieved. I thank all those students who have helped it become a reality. We are doing this through open source drug discovery (OSDD) and anyone across the world is free to join the effort,” [Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) chief Samir] Bramhachari told IANS….

“OSDD is a completely new formula across the world. Here we are making all our progress available to public. Anyone can take advantage and develop a drug based on our research. The aim here is not patents but drug discovery for a neglected disease,” said Rajesh Gokhle, a senior scientist associated with the project.

And I thought that no such breakthroughs were possible without patents?

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Comments on “Indian Scientists Refuse To Patent Tuberculosis Genome, Encourage Anyone To Make The Drugs”

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41 Comments
Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re: Re: Big Pharma

Explaining the high costs will only come after:
1. They’ve managed to get an overly broad patent which “remarkably” covers this.
2. They’ve convinced the scientists to shut down their research over threat of lawsuits.
3. They decided not to make the thing that actually cures the disease because they can make more money selling treatments that only prolong it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Big Pharma

More examples of the useless nature of patents. If patents were really useful then why don’t they encourage big Pharma to research anti biotics.

It’s also amazing how the cure to the common cold is something as simple as opening a window yet our entire medical establishment can’t figure this simple fact out.

The Patent Examiner Guy (profile) says:

Not so much difference...

Well, since biotech patents are granted based on solving a problem using a SPECIFIC part of the genome, neither the guys who mapped the genome could have patented it (so, no bragging rights for them), nor will they prevent further patenting on specific parts of that genome, once somebody finds out exactly what can be synthesized by which parts…

So it’s really “no-news”..

The Patent Examiner Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Not so much difference...

You’re assuming I work in the US… i actually don’t, so I don’t keep up with what i assume must be US court cases, and most countries accept biotech patents because they belong to the WTO and were “forced” to sign the TRIPS agreement… as a side note, I’ll add that Techdirt is actually a very interesting site for foreigners, it’s sort of a compendium of the craziest things in IP disputes, all coming from the US.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“this is government agency direct. big difference.”

Oh yes, If I steal 60 percent of what I have and you steal 80 percent of what you have, big difference there. The fact that I only steal 60 percent makes me not a thief but since you steal 80 percent you are a thief.

The point is that someone who steals 40 percent of the time has no room to condemn someone who steals 60 percent of the time. This “big difference” you make isn’t that big of a difference, it’s the same thing, just a matter of degree.

CharlieM (profile) says:

Like the Patent Examiner Guy said... nothing to see here

Far as I know, you cannot patent a complete genome (and as you have written about in the past must people and govn. agree that you should not be able to patent a functional part).

Now, had these scientists developed an siRNA, or protein derived from this work, that actually helps fight TB, then I would be AMAZED if they declined a patent.

Really this story should end with “… and may someday lead to a cure for cancer”.

mike42 (profile) says:

Re: Like the Patent Examiner Guy said... nothing to see here

You say this like it’s all OK… There is no logical reason ANYONE should be able to patent ANY part of ANY biological structure. It’s a massive abuse of the system, brought about by people who confuse morals and ethics with law. FYI: Just because you CAN get away with something, doesn’t mean you should do it.

I challenge you to defend your position based on logic, morals and ethics, not on what is legal right here and right now.

The Patent Examiner Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Like the Patent Examiner Guy said... nothing to see here

I didn’t say I had a “position”… the fact is that this is how things work, and if India has the same laws everyone else has right now, then there’s no “open source genome free for all do what you want kind of thing” possibility, because, well, there are patents, live with it or run for WTO chairman… and try to disband the TRIPS agreement… i know i’m just one guy 🙂

NAMELESS.ONE says:

IMPRESSED

but at same time they are my genes YOUR genes evryones genes

THEY dont want to go to the route where the gene patents get invalidated also vindicating its MY FRAKING BODY syndrome idea.

that in affect because this gene and that one might even be a lil diff and added to a whole makes the individual me
if you can patent that

then im a patent?
you OWN ME
isnt that slavery?

kj (profile) says:

Blog on TB

This is such an important topic, and it really isn’t discussed often enough! I saw a blog recently – http://bit.ly/dgMk6g – about tuberculosis that gave a lot of information about global infection rates, etc. The organization behind this blog (www.iconsinmed.org) seems to be working to provide consultations for specialty care in areas that don’t have the doctors they need – seems like it really could help fix the problem of at least ensuring medical care.

opit (profile) says:

Actually, some patents have been disallowed in court. Just because the neocons and/or neoliberals – fascists in either case – want their companies to feed at the public trough and monopolize content does not justify a corporate welfare state. Nor is it any surprise in a large world that there is some difficulty pulling it off.
India in particular should know the problems with that. Tens of thousands of farmers have committed suicide after Monsanto patents wrecked their farming : ditto in Iraq due to them getting the benefits of Bremer’s 100 Orders, and in Africa too.
Then again, I followed corporate ‘ farming’ ever since I read about what happened under Nelson Rockefeller’s programs in Central and South America as far back as the 40’s.
WFT ? Right here.
http://opitslinkfest.blogspot.com/2009/07/corporate-farming.html

Ronald J Riley (profile) says:

In This Case India Has Not Invented Anything

“We recently wrote about the pharmaceutical industry in India, noting that it had been thriving prior to foreign pharma lobbyists pressuring India”

What Mike Masnick fails to mention is that India’s industry has been built on pirating others inventions.

“Indian scientists have mapped out the tuberculosis genome, which should help creating new drugs that can help respond to that disease.”

There is a huge difference between mapping the genome and identifying targets within the genome to stop tuberculosis. Furthermore, once prospective treatment vector are identified a staggering effort is required to actually use them including expensive clinical trials. So while mapping the genome is a good start it is not that valuable in its own right.

“And I thought that no such breakthroughs were possible without patents?”

What breakthrough? At this point they have not produced any inventions.

Open source drug discovery is a laudable undertaking as long as those practicing such actually invent everything they want to use. That is the problem with open source software, which is mostly a loss leader business model to sell other services, namely that they have a tendency to steal other’s property rights to support their business model. In many ways they are like a car theft ring which parts out stolen vehicles.

Inventions have significant economic value and diverting that value for your own personal gain is no less theft than if someone walked into Mike Masnick’s house and helped themselves to his belonging or better yet managed to drain his bank accounts of all the money which is just as much an intangible representation of value as a patent.

The problem here is putty like ethical standards coupled with a serious lack of critical thinking skills.

Ronald J. Riley,

Speaking only on my own behalf.
President – http://www.PIAUSA.org – RJR at PIAUSA.org
Executive Director – http://www.InventorEd.org – RJR at InvEd.org
Senior Fellow – http://www.PatentPolicy.org
President – Alliance for American Innovation
Caretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul Heckel
Washington, DC
Direct (810) 597-0194 – (202) 318-1595 – 9 am to 8 pm EST.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: In This Case India Has Not Invented Anything

“Open source drug discovery is a laudable undertaking as long as those practicing such actually invent everything they want to use. That is the problem with open source software, which is mostly a loss leader business model to sell other services, namely that they have a tendency to steal other’s property rights to support their business model. In many ways they are like a car theft ring which parts out stolen vehicles.”

This isn’t true at all, firefox and Linux created many new ideas that were stolen by Micorsoft and others. Firefox was the first to come up with the idea of a search bar at the bottom, among MANY other things. Microsoft, and others, steal many ideas from Linux, linux was among the first to support web browsing and the Internet along with multi core processors and many other innovations.

The problem here is that you make things up out of your imagination and state it as true.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: In This Case India Has Not Invented Anything

“Inventions have significant economic value and diverting that value for your own personal gain is no less theft than if someone walked into Mike Masnick’s house and helped themselves to his belonging or better yet managed to drain his bank accounts of all the money which is just as much an intangible representation of value as a patent. “

More lies. Infringement is not stealing and the fact that something has economic value does not justify a monopoly on anything.

You expect us to take your moral judgment seriously when all you do is lie.

and the rest of what you’re saying is also nothing but lies. But of course you’re among the few that benefit from a system where you can make money and not innovate simply by demanding people give you money on some patent the retard patent office holds. You have a conflict of interest in the matter and shouldn’t be expected to be honest about the subject, as Adam Smith correctly points out.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: In This Case India Has Not Invented Anything

“Inventions have significant economic value”

This just shows the retarded (and selfish) thinking of IP maximists. They think that anything that has economic value ought to be monopolized.

“diverting that value for your own personal gain”

It is monopolists that divert economic value for their own personal gain. A monopoly decreases aggregate output which simply diverts economic value and creates less total value to the economy.

“There is a huge difference between mapping the genome and identifying targets within the genome to stop tuberculosis. Furthermore, once prospective treatment vector are identified a staggering effort is required to actually use them including expensive clinical trials. So while mapping the genome is a good start it is not that valuable in its own right.”

All of which assumes that patents are needed to make these discoveries and progress and that clinical trials will never happen without patents. Of course there is no evidence to support such an assumption.

Shrike says:

Re: In This Case India Has Not Invented Anything

If this is the standard US corporates and researchers set than I am appalled by it. India does not copy drugs per se. It produces generic drugs whose licenses have lapsed which is perfectly legal. If not for Indian companies like CIPLA, Ranbaxy and Orchid. The AIDS/HIV situation in Africa would have blown out of control. Indian pharma companies reduced the price of coktail drugs like ziduvadine by a large margin and made it affordable to the HIV infected thus improving their quality of life and health. US to copies and steals.remember BASMATI, Turmeric, OKRA? US companies tried to illegally patent these.

Ronald J Riley (profile) says:

Mapping The Genome Is Not An Invention ! ! - And Capital Is Not Free

“All of which assumes that patents are needed to make these discoveries and progress and that clinical trials will never happen without patents.”

Producing inventions costs money. Equipment and supplies must be purchased, people must be paid so that they can pay their way. The capital for all this must come from somewhere.

Contrary to TechDIRT claims there are no free lunches.

I and other inventors produce inventions, we produce patents which teach the art. And most of us use initial income from licensing our patents to build companies, creating jobs and prosperity for our communities.

In order to do this we must make a living. That is true of any business. Income must exceed expenses or the business dies.

If the income does not come from sales of products or service then it must come from the public at large. Are you ready to vote for large tax increases to fund these costs? If not then there will be no discoveries.

I repeat, that regardless of the media hype that India has not invented anything in this case. And if they invent something based on the mapped genome I am willing to bet that they patent it.

One last point, the tools they used to map the genome were mostly produced by American inventors.

Ronald J. Riley,

Speaking only on my own behalf.
President – http://www.PIAUSA.org – RJR at PIAUSA.org
Executive Director – http://www.InventorEd.org – RJR at InvEd.org
Senior Fellow – http://www.PatentPolicy.org
President – Alliance for American Innovation
Caretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul Heckel
Washington, DC
Direct (810) 597-0194 – (202) 318-1595 – 9 am to 8 pm EST.

Jose_X (profile) says:

Re: Mapping The Genome Is Not An Invention ! ! - And Capital Is Not Free

>> Producing inventions costs money. Equipment and supplies must be purchased, people must be paid so that they can pay their way.

Where does a fixed 20 year monopoly period per patent claim account for the fact that many “inventions” reuse investments and equipment and even work hours that were used to arrive at other patents already and perhaps which have already been paid back through profits?

Of course a fixed 20 year monopoly is a horrible solution to almost any problem, but I just wanted to accept this premise to make the prior point.

Read my prior comment “Re: nonprofit” to see an example where a monopoly subsidy (of modest duration) might make sense and for one alternative to monopolies (essentially, mandate royalties but capped through a tax mechanism).

We should always avoid stifling the many that are efficient producers (eg, who would do further R&D, manufacture, distribute, etc) or simply who can contribute further, by avoiding the huge opportunity costs that tend to occur when we place so much market control (monopoly/injunction) in the hands of a single highly biased entity.

We should also avoid encouraging the inefficient allocation of dollars. These inefficiencies are very likely to happen, for example, if we offer too large of a reward to first place and then give nothing and actually take much away for coming in second, third, fourth, fifth, etc. [As another example, if you have co-participants that will otherwise be severely punished and you offer too many benefits exclusively to the first to step forward with some degree of verifyable information, you will likely find at least one to step forward and to cheat the others.]

Note that a tax for the benefit of inventors and other contributors automatically adjusts for:
— cases where patents are too broad (assuming people are taking out patents on extensions to others’ work), because the loot is split;
— cases where the industry moves too fast and 20 years is a lifetime, since we avoid injunctions;
— where many contributed significantly (as long as these document the contributions in time and can get the equivalent of a “patent” or “contributor notice”.. see next paragraph);
— the fact that the treble damages rule does not encourage patent study but rather discourages it (especially if one is likely to “re-invent”), because no such rule will exist and because there is to be gained by co-joining in the overall invention process.

Auto-patents:

To be fair to **all** inventors and not discriminate needlessly, we make “patents” be automatic/implicit and $0 (as is the case for copyrights). This way, inventors that are busy implementing and perfecting the details of inventions and/or who are not very wealthy and don’t want to use a patent to sue, can gain the same benefits as those that are wealthy, aren’t occupied with the many important details of implementing an invention, etc.

Having “novel” work that solves part of the problem means you essentially get an “auto-patent” on that portion.

“Auto-patents” would take effect when you made the discovery (rather than when you did the write-up).

We prioritize the inventing (ie, which came first) in the more efficient “lazy evaluation” fashion where the entire private sector can also participate (we remove the USPTO bottleneck) as ideas/works/etc come to the public’s attention. One possible deadline would be for getting a split of the taxes that apply to a particular product. This deadline would likely be a few years after the first products hit market.

We should avoid giving all credit to a single entity since all inventions are a product of society (where many contribute significantly along the way).

Certainly, if we look back at refinements and discoveries 20 years before any invention, we will find many obvious cases of contributions (eg, within the field of mathematics and many scientific disciplines and even from fiction and liberal arts). Imagine if each of these contributory items were able to and had been monopolized for 20 years!

>> The capital for all this must come from somewhere.

The capital for everything must come from somewhere. What is your point?

Jose_X (profile) says:

Re: nonprofit

>> It is easier for government and university employees to “donate” their discoveries. They are already being paid. Small companies and inventors are not. If we don’t get paid we go out of business.

Any business that expects a 20 year monopoly likely is very very inefficient.

If the government offered much less, then researchers (as a business) would become much more efficient. The goal of government should be to give a helping hand without going bankrupt or stifling progress.

A better use of monopoly subsidies:

It’s one thing to say, “OK, the 20 year clock starts now because we really want to have a cure for cancer in 20 years.” But to give 20 extra full years to someone that jumps a little ahead of scientific progress so as to stifle for 20 years beyond the point when science was approaching a solution, that is counterproductive.

If we set a “monopoly expires in 20 years from today” award, then we need to make sure that scientists and others believe 20 years is a decent award for the particular case and that we aren’t potentially nearing a solution already. We need to guarantee independence by members of such a committee.

As the 20 years are nearing an end, then maybe we add 5 year extensions or less, so that whenever someone does discover, they likely will have around 5 or fewer years of monopoly exploitation time left.

A better alternative to monopoly subsidies:

Better than a stifling monopoly is to give X in tax credits yearly (for T years) for a drug that leads to Y in sales by the industry on that year. Equivalently, a fixed royalty can be set (like a tax) so that all that want to distribute or manufacture (or whatever) the drug have to pay it.

If we did this, who could argue it isn’t fair, and surely drug prices would drop immediately to approach the price of “generics”.

We can even have the tax be largest in the first few years (but still have it be reasonable), and then drop off afterward.

And rather than to give all of this tax money to a single inventor, it should be shared by the notable contributors. Maybe 30-70% goes to the first to publish the solution to be split with others that also publish within 3 months (meaning that others would have published if this person didn’t.. so scientific publishing might slow down for 3 months). The rest goes to other important contributors (a higher percentage if there were other very significant contributors) as determined in time by a committee of experts.

We need to avoid subsidies that stifle others. We need to try to reward more than one contributor if applicable. We need to avoid giving too much since that can lead to high inefficiencies early on and then to sloth afterward.

>> What percentage of inventions can afford to operate as nonprofit…few -very, very few. Get real!

BTW, if it were true (hypothetically speaking) that for-profits led to horrible deals for society as compared to nonprofits, then why cater to and subsidize for-profits?

Always, someone with business ideas will find a way to help make someone else (eg, an “inventor”) more money, but before we write a bunch of laws to help facilitate this but which might hurt many other members of society, we have to ask what society gains and loses.

There are many ways to reward. We should always seek to avoid stifling others as a way to indirectly help someone.

Besides stifling others, a “long” monopoly period leads to sloth because there is little pressure to produce or implement or leverage in efficient manner if you have a guaranteed monopoly for a long period of time.

And sometimes or perhaps many times, appealing to greed is not the right solution. See for example http://www.techdirt.com/blog/entrepreneurs/articles/20100305/1907278449.shtml .

Lalit Kumar - VaaYaa Edutech (user link) says:

Make Everyting Free And LEad Type 1 Revolution

Its good example of comparing Tesla with Edison. Tesla was eminent scientist and more brilliant who lobbied for free energy but government never supported his noble deeds while edison was more business minded. Just imagine the world would have changed immensely in positive manner if we had free energy and electricity as advocated by Mr. Tesla. India is serving to the mankind and humanity by opening drugs formulations and its sources. This is humble attempt by Indian scientist to balance the uneven-ness that drives rift between developed countries and not-so-developed countries. Its great way to bridge that gap and keep humanity above all.
Search engines are free and see how they have changed the way human kind seek information. It has done more good than harm.

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