Deadly Monopolies: New Book Explores How Patenting Genes Has Made Us Less Healthy
from the stop-the-scourge dept
NPR has an excellent overview of this new book, highlighting the key point: that patenting genes is making us less healthy:
Restrictive patents on genes prevent competition that can keep the medical cost of treatment down, says Washington. In addition to genes, she also points to tissue samples, which are also being patented — sometimes without patients' detailed knowledge and consent. Washington details one landmark case in California in which medically valuable tissue samples from a patient's spleen were patented by a physician overseeing his treatment for hairy-cell leukemia. The physician then established a laboratory to determine whether tissue samples could be used to create various drugs without informing the patient.And, of course, the book pins many of the problems on a familiar culprit that we've spoken about many times before here: the Bayh-Dole Act, which pushed Universities to start locking up research, rather than sharing it with the world:
"[The patient] was told that he had to come to [the physician's] lab for tests ... in the name of vigilance to treat his cancer and keep him healthy," says Washington.
The patient, a man named John Moore, was never told that his discarded body parts could be used in other ways. He sued his doctor and the University of California, where the procedure took place, for lying to him about his tissue — and because he did not want to be the subject of a patent. The case went all the way to the California Supreme Court, where Moore lost. In the decision, the court noted that Moore had no right to any share of the profits obtained from anything developed from his discarded body parts.
But since the 1980s, researchers at universities and the pharmaceutical industry have become collaborators in ways that they weren't before, says Washington. The 1980 Bayh-Dole Act gave universities and small businesses control of their intellectual property — which allowed them to sell their patents.We've been reporting on this stuff for years, and it's good to see it getting more publicity through books like this. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely to change in any significant way in the near future... unless, perhaps, the Supreme Court actually comes through and wipes out gene patents.
"Before the 1980s ... most researchers worked within a university culture which encouraged free discourse without necessarily a potential product in mind," she says. "It encouraged collaboration and data-sharing, and the values held by medical researchers were values of academic excellence, medical achievement, altruism ... these were the motivations. Now that the patent is based upon the value of exclusivity, the corporation discouraged very strongly and prohibited data sharing. ... This culture of the corporation has overtaken the medical research culture."