Thursday, June 3, 2010

Proof that science works

This week, a research team out of the Cleveland Clinic announced that they had successfully tested a breast cancer vaccine on mice. The work to develop this vaccine was made possible with a mere 1.5 million USD grant from the National Institutes of Health, a federal funding agency in the US. Oddly, while defenders of the Myriad patents on BRCA1 and 2 often claim that the diagnostic test wouldn't have been developed but for patents, and that the money generated by such patents is necessary for further breakthroughs in health, there is no evidence that Myriad has invested any of its over 300 million USD per year profits from the BRCA1 and 2 tests in developing any cures. Why would they? For the remaining 5 years of their patent, they can rake in their monopoly rates, generating huge profits above and beyond the costs of the original research, and not have to invest in any new research. They also now have a patent on the pancreatic cancer gene and can rake in more money from those diagnostics. So why bother with a cure?

Publicly-funded science, on the other hand, devoid of the conflict of interest generated by the corporate need for profits, works. The work on the breast cancer vaccine is showing just how. I could find no patent, either, registered for the work on the vaccine. Perhaps, like Jonas Salk, Dr. Vincent Tuohy would view such a patent as the equivalent of patenting the sun. Let's hope. Meanwhile, this story illustrates how science can work, and why the arguments regarding the necessity of patents to fuel medical breakthroughs is bunk.

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