Sunday, July 02, 2006

The patent monster

Economic rationalism and greed are much the same thing. And they are the downfall of the civilized world - no better exemplified than by the fate of the Broad Institute's RNAi Consortium as reported in today's Boston Globe.
The Consortium, a scientific alliance between Harvard and MIT, has been funded by drug company donations in an altruistic attempt to create specific gene-blocking molecules which may be able "to turn genetic research into real treatment for diseases".
It's a marriage of pharma dollars and science for the human good.

Laboratory scientists, in all their erudition and brilliance, may discover, evolve and invent - but they do not manufacture. More's the pity.

For when it comes to a volume production of the molecules for dispersal to the research and experiment spheres of the rest of the world, commercial interests must be involved - licenced to produce and stockpile the supplies.

Now, as the Globe reveals, there is a legal spat between a global lab supply company in St Louis and a private supply firm in Alabama - a claim on two scientific patents. The idea is that one company can shut down the other and monopolise the supply.

Says the Globe:
The suit illustrates an emerging challenge for supporters of publicly accessible medical research: Patents and intellectual property in the life sciences have grown so valuable that they are jealously guarded as potential keys to millions of dollars in revenue.

Surely, it is time for the Justice system to step in and curtail the potential for such rapacious exploitation of the future of science. This is one of those stories which fills one full of the "where-will-it-all-end" dread.

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