Lasker Award Winners

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Michael Sheetz, of Columbia University, James Spudich, of Stanford, and Ronald Vale, of UC San Francisco, received a Lasker Award for discoveries concerning cytoskeletal motor proteins, machines that move cargos within cells, contract muscles, and enable cell movements. They’ll discuss their work.


Michael Sheetz, James Spudich and Ronald Vale

Comments [14]

Dr Steve Auerbach from New York, NY

fyi: The legislation I was referring to is the The Bayh–Dole Act of 1980, which reversed prior law on the presumption of title. Bayh-Dole permits a university, small business, or non-profit institution to elect to pursue ownership of an invention in preference to the government, even when it was government funded research that led to the patent. This act was specifically passed so that universities, nonprofit organizations and small business organizations could more easily obtain title to patents developed with federal funding, at the dawn of the direct gene to drug research (e.g, human insulin) era. Previously the presumption was that since NIH (the public tax payer) paid for it, therefore NIH (i.e. the public) should share in any patent profit. This explicitely reveresed that. Why would Congress pass such a law against the puublic interest? Lobbying by industry (which includes the Universities, as well as Pharma.).

In accordance with the act, all funding agreements with such organizations must give the organization the right to obtain title to any invention that is conceived or first reduced to practice in performance of work under the funding agreement. There are several exceptions to this requirement, such as inventions made during the operation of a government-owned facility or if the organization is not located in the U.S. There are exceptions mostly for Department of Defense, the Department of Energy and NASA. Most NIH (i.e. biomedical, genetics, etc.) extramural funding (public research money going to support research by universities and other entities outside of NIH's own labs; this is most of what NIH does), grants, contracts are deliberately written to limit ability of any results being patented or shared even in part by NIH (i.e. the public).

Sep. 20 2012 11:04 PM

Note to the producers: Sounds like you have a good interview topic here.

Sep. 20 2012 08:05 PM
Dr. Steve Auerbach from New York, NY

Just to be more clear in response to Dan from San Francisco:
1. not condemning these scientists; they did what the system suggests they do. but it was quite a sequeway as they went from the wonder of pure science and academia to their companies, without any note of issue i raise.

2. I am not saying private for-profit should not a role in drug development and (co-)ownership of patents.

3. I am saying that the public/government/NIH should also be able to SHARE in the profit from any patent profit made from public fudnding.

4. If NIH could do so, it might not need as much of an increase in funding from congress as Dan suggests, in order to be able to do more.

5. Again, there is nothing inherent in science or technical development that says the way the U.S. does it has to. Purely corporate lobbying of congress. Other western capitalist countries do allow/require that when the public paid for research, the public shares in benefit. Only in U.S. is it explicitely not allowed, and only privatizing spin offs from university and other private individual are allowed to benefit from the patent.

Sep. 20 2012 02:06 PM
Steve Auerbach, MD from New York, NY

To reply to Dan from San Francisco:
The tax-paying public/federal government/nih should be able to SHARE in the profit back from our public invesment in the research. As currently written into American law, due solely to corporate lobbying in the early 1980s, we are not allowed to share in the benefits of the patents. This has to do with the American political system, not inherent to doing science or improving healthcare or even to drug development. All of the big drug companies are multinationals; same drugs from same companies across most of the OECD. And the laws in the other developed capitlist countries (UK, France, Germany, etc.) do allow that the profit from patents developed as the result of public funding are shared by the public. They are not perfect, but for the most part, they are less bad than the U.S. is.

Sep. 20 2012 01:24 PM
Dan from San Francisco

This railing against the fruits of publicly-funded research being used to drive private-sector innovation is deeply misguided. If Vale and Spudich wanted to see their discoveries turned into new drugs with a real impact on cancer and heart disease, what were their options? There IS no "public" path with the screening, chemistry, drug optimization, and clinical development resources to do what needed doing. The track record for development of novel therapies in the public sector or using public funds is abysmal. If you want there to be this capability in the public domain, fine, but in that case you should be advocating for a 10-fold increase in the NIH budget, not criticizing these researchers. Do not blame individuals for responding to the realities of the current system in rational ways. If you do not like the results, then advocate for policy changes that will re-wire the system and give all the players different incentives. Otherwise, this amounts to telling scientists who have made discoveries with real potential to improve human health to sit on their hands to avoid this kind of character assassination. I know whereof I speak.

Sep. 20 2012 01:13 PM

Thank you, Dr. Steve. You are more to the point than I was.

Sep. 20 2012 12:44 PM
Dr. Steve Auerbach from New York, NY

Since the scientists brought up their private-for-profit spin-off companies, this is an appropriate time to point out that this is a perfect example of a huge problem and misconception in the U.S. biomedical and health policy system: The fact is that it is public government tax-payer money (e.g., NIH grants) that supports almost all of the basic science research, as was the case for these scientists in their academic university work. Then once the basic science and tools have been developed, they turn around and either found their own companies or sell the patents to existing companies, that do further development to make the drug and make the profits. Unfortunately, thanks to corporate lobbying, the tax-payer/government/NIH is not able to share in the profits that come from the research we paid for. There is something remarkable in the way the conversation on the show went, with the scientist blithely going from their role as pioneergin (publicly) funded scientist winnning awards, to their role as CEO and promoters of their private for-profit corporations whose existance came from the research we the people funded.

Sep. 20 2012 12:38 PM

mar - that company is called Cytokinetics.

Sep. 20 2012 12:32 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

To Amy

This is why great scientists and discoverers make for poor teachers.They have the need to give circuitous answers to direct questions. But that is what made my job as a technical writer possible. My job was to take engineering mumbo jumbo and translate it into concise, straight-foward language that most normal people could grasp.

Sep. 20 2012 12:30 PM

Me three. This sounds totally fascinating but I'm not fully grasping it. These scientists aren't to be blamed for the gross deficiency in US science education, but I hope they can help us interested adult listeners catch up.

Sep. 20 2012 12:29 PM

How many patents do they hold? Do they or do their institutions benefit from them?

Sep. 20 2012 12:29 PM

Please have the guest name the new company that was mentioned that launched this morning.

Sep. 20 2012 12:29 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Could the guests use less medical terminology, or at least explain the terms, e.g., hypertrophy = enlargement? Most listeners don't know what many of these words mean.

Sep. 20 2012 12:23 PM
Jeofrey from Astoria

Currently studying Anatomy and Physiology at Beth Israel School of Nursing, how would you describe the structure and function of muscle cells in layman's terms? Are there any relatively "easy" books you would recommend to help students better understand and visualize your line of work?

Sep. 20 2012 01:36 AM

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