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.

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  1. icon
    Richard (profile), 15 Nov 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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