How Long Before A Patent Kills A Hundred Million People?
from the is-this-really-wise? dept
Recent news that Angelina Jolie underwent a preventive double mastectomy because of her elevated risk of developing breast cancer has drawn attention to the Myriad Genetics case currently before the US Supreme Court, and to the whole area of gene patents. Myriad's monopoly has allowed it to set a high price for its tests -- $3000 -- and this is bound to have acted as a disincentive for those who were unable to afford such a sum. It is therefore quite likely that people have died as a result of Myriad's patents.
Here's another case where placing patenting above patients could lead to unnecessary deaths. It involves the SARS-like novel coronavirus that was first noted in Saudi Arabia, as this Reuters story explains:
The virus was identified in September last year, three months after a scientist took a sample from Saudi Arabia to the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands.
Fortunately, the virus does not seem to have spread widely during that three-month delay, but next time we might not be so lucky. It seems bordering suicidal that concerns about patenting should over-ride health concerns, especially when a viral pandemic could potentially kill a hundred million people, as it did in 1918. Let's hope that the Supreme Court recognizes this as yet another reason not to allow patents on genes, and that this becomes part of a broader move to share freely vital knowledge that can save lives and alleviate suffering around the world.
"There was a lag of three months where we were not aware of the discovery of the virus," Saudi Arabia's Deputy Health Minister Ziad Memish told the Geneva meeting.
He said it was taken out of the country without permission and Saudi Arabia only learned of its discovery from ProMED, a U.S.-based internet-based reporting system.
The Rotterdam-based Erasmus lab then patented the process for synthesizing the virus, meaning that anyone else who wanted to use their method to study it would have to pay the lab.
The patenting had delayed the development of diagnostic kits and serologic tests for the disease, Memish said.