Sunday, June 21, 2009

Worth revisiting/New media

When even Craig Venter agrees that gene sequence patent stifle research, you know you're onto something. While he cites one drug that was made possible by patenting the sequence, he notes it is an exception, and that, for the most part, drugs will not come from the sequences themselves. No, the patents that have emerged, and have proven profitable, are those like Myriad's, whose test incorporates the BRCA1 and 2 sequences necessarily, but which encompasses essentially little that is new or inventive. As I have argued, if they developed a new, better means of screening for the presence of a gene, then by all means, patent it. But the sequences themselves are not new, they are devised by nature. Would scientists have discovered the BRCA1 and 2 genes without financial incentive? I'd say, pretty much assuredly. Breast cancer is a huge social concern, and the efforts to discover disease genes have been motivated by public health and scientific concerns, as much as by profits motives (actually, let's hope, more so). How should scientists looking for disease genes be compensated? By increasing federal funding for basic research. Scientists love grants, believe me. In the end, I wholeheartedly believe that there will be more patentable, downstream innovations by freeing up the upstream research, and enabling it through increased funding. It's not like there isn't market demand for new, better treatments and drugs. Of course, that market would also expand with universal health coverage (not necessarily single payer -- here in NL, we have mandatory health insurance, but we each pay, though the costs are affordable). But that's a whole 'nother matter.

As for media, I did a nice interview at Changesurfer Radio, with my friend Dr. J. Give it a listen, we covered some new ground.


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