Can companies patent human genes? That's the question before the Supreme Court today, as the justices hear arguments in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc..
The 10 million Americans who take Lipitor to deal with their high cholesterol are about to get some good news. The 20 year patent on the blockbuster prescription drug expires Wednesday, creating an opening for other companies to manufacture cheaper, chemically identical generic versions of the drug. Two companies have products coming out on the market to entice the 3.5 million users of Lipitor away. But Pfizer, the makers of Lipitor − which derives almost a fifth of its revenue from $11 billion in sales of the drug — has its own plan for keeping patients on the name brand.
Harriet Washington explains the “life patent” gold rush and why she thinks it will have harmful, and even lethal, consequences for public health. The United States Patent Office has granted at least 40,000 patents so far on genes controlling the most basic processes of human life. In Deadly Monopolies: The Shocking Corporate Takeover of Life Itself—and the Consequences for Your Health and Our Medical Future she examines the legal, ethical, and social bases for pharmaceutical companies’ position that such patents are necessary.
On April 12, 1955, Edward R. Murrow interviewed Dr. Jonas Salk on the CBS show, "See it Now." Salk’s polio vaccine had just been proven effective in preventing the disease. Murrow asked who owned the vaccine. "The people I would say," Salk answered. "There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?" Medical research culture has changed dramatically since Salk's time. Had it been invented today, it seems likely that the polio vaccine would have been patented immediately, and that Salk would have worked for a pharmaceutical company, rather than a university.