PDA

View Full Version : Bioethics; Myriad Genetics loses, humanity wins.



SFGOON
30th March 10, 11:17 AM
If I was the one who discovered the chemical formulae for water, I could have patented it and made you all pay me a royalty every time you drank. Right?

No? What do you mean? I did all the work! I made this discovery, parasite!

Myriad genetics has held patents on human genes which cause breast cancer. These genes would have been incredibly useful for the development of therapies. Instead, Myriad Genetics just sat on them for a decade and stymied any research into these gene sequences.

This has arguably caused several preventable deaths.

Normally, I think the ACLU are a bunch of whiny white boys who couldn't get real lawyer jobs. But, they were representing the plantiffs (humanity) in this case, and they pulled it off.

This sort of abuse and stonewalling is exactly the reason why the government, (or wealthy benefactors vis a vis Rockefeller) should subsidize science and especially medical research. The financial incentive needs to be diminished. Also, patent law needs serious reform with regard to medicine.

Edit: Here's a short wired.com article on the subject, for those of you who don't trust my interpretation. http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/03/judge-nullifies-gene-patents/

Arhetton
30th March 10, 07:49 PM
We had a similar case in Australia, identically over treatment for breast cancer.

Whats unclear in the article, as it is poorly written, is whether or not the patent applies exclusively to the genes, or to the testing procedures.

As I understand in these disputes, the companies actually patent the genes to enforce the exclusivity of the testing procedures.

I mean it harps on about how the patent covers the genes, then this sentence


Patents for exclusive genetic testing have also been issued for a host of genes, including those related to cystic fibrosis, heart arrhythmias and hemochromatosis.

In the Australian case, I am actually a shareholder in the company in question, and I have three sisters and we discussed the case.

If a company invests tens of millions, or hundreds of millions of dollars in firstly, discovering what genes cause breast cancer, then developing a new treatment or procedure for screening for breast cancer, they have a right to recover their investment.

Understandably they move in and try to control competitors from basically bankrupting them. Law of the jungle etc etc. And you are correct in that the patent process needs review, and that companies should not be able to own bits of DNA that exist in the general population.

However complaints like these that the companies involved stymie research and profiteer off human suffering ignore the fact that this research would not go on at all if there was no profit in the activity.

Personally I am glad that private companies are involved in health and genetics. There is a lot of innovation from that sphere.

In the case of Myriad, I personally do not like this company very much. The man who 'discovered' BRCA1 stole the idea for the research off a contemporary scientist, Mary Claire King, who deserved the recognition and was months off the same discovery.

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/42/105440214_1650258166.jpg

You can learn more about this particular gene patent in question in the following documentary episode:

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/dna/episode4/index.html


--------

Personalities and politics aside, say it takes $100 million to discover a new treatment. Say the incidence of the disease is low (small market), so it costs $3000 per screening. Roughly 30,000 individuals need to move through the screening before the company breaks even, let alone profits.

Take the investment over time (several years to discover the treatment, more to recover initial investment, more to profit), and it may have made more sense for the company to just fuck the research off, put the money in the bank and let it compound for the ten years or so involved. So there is opportunity cost for the investment as well.

"But don't you like helping people/You're an evil bastard/you don't care about breast cancer" etc etc.

I can tell you for a fact that most women that I know have spent more than $3000 on shoes and handbags in the last 5 years, and yet they are outraged that it costs $3000 to be genetically (permanently) screened for hereditary breast cancer?

I spent 1/2 of that at the dentist last year. Most people as far as I know could whack that on a credit card and pay it off over two years.

Most of the women the test applies to is for hereditary cancer, so they only need test if there is a history in the family of the disease. As you will see if you watch the documentary.

I think people get emotional over this stuff because it is their health, and they go crazy when they 'can't afford it'.

If there was a $3000 genetic test which pretty much dead set told you whether or not you would get prostate cancer, without having a doctor shove his hand up your ass, do you think men would complain about taking it?

EuropIan
30th March 10, 08:03 PM
So if a person has those genes they have to pay royalties?

That doesn't make any sense.

WarPhalange
30th March 10, 08:36 PM
I don't see how you can patent discoveries. You can only patent inventions or ideas. Say I discovered a new planet. I can't patent it. It's not intellectual property. It's already there.

Testing procedures, yes, they are patentable. But saying "you can't study gene #203582 because I discovered it and therefore it's mine" is fucking stupid.

SFGOON
30th March 10, 08:39 PM
What do you think - say - Genetech, charges for a course of Avastin?

It's on the order of $100,000. Holy fucking shit! Talk about a captive market, huh? You shouldn't have to sell your house to afford medicine. But, that's what Genentech is asking of people. This is also why insurance companies were so eager to drop people once they came down with cancer.

Avastin doesn't have a mechanism of action that's tightly specific to any one form of cancer - rather it prevents the formation of new blood vessels which in turn slows down tumor growth.

Sales topped 2.7 billion in 2008. I think they might have recovered their R&D inputs by now.

Strictly speaking, I don't have a problem with the patenting of drugs. It's the patenting of products of nature, such as BRCA 1&2 which stymie innovation both for the industry as well as the patent holder.

If the company in question wanted to protect it's ability to screen for breast cancer, they could have just as easily patented the restriction enzymes without monopolizing the entire gene. Because such an enzyme would not be a product of nature, it was patentable.

As is, their actions stymied innovation by preventing others from discovering useful information about BCRA.

HappyOldGuy
30th March 10, 08:54 PM
I don't see how you can patent discoveries. You can only patent inventions or ideas. Say I discovered a new planet. I can't patent it. It's not intellectual property. It's already there.

Testing procedures, yes, they are patentable. But saying "you can't study gene #203582 because I discovered it and therefore it's mine" is fucking stupid.

But what if I patent the process of using gene #203582 using all of the common laboratory methods to identifya specific gene. There aren't that many.

WarPhalange
30th March 10, 09:06 PM
But what if I patent the process of using gene #203582 using all of the common laboratory methods to identifya specific gene. There aren't that many.

I have no idea what you just said. Patent the process of using the gene? Or patent the process of identifying the gene? I don't see how identifying a specific gene would have a different process than identifying a gene in general. I can see patenting a process of identifying genes, just like you can patent processes to identify heart disease or some such, but I guess I'd have to know more about this gene and how to identify it to have a better opinion on the matter.

danno
30th March 10, 09:13 PM
this would never, ever happen in danno's socialist utopia.

WarPhalange
30th March 10, 09:17 PM
this would never, ever happen in danno's socialist utopia.

Medical research?

Arhetton
30th March 10, 09:21 PM
Strictly speaking, I don't have a problem with the patenting of drugs. It's the patenting of products of nature, such as BRCA 1&2 which stymie innovation both for the industry as well as the patent holder.

If the company in question wanted to protect it's ability to screen for breast cancer, they could have just as easily patented the restriction enzymes without monopolizing the entire gene. Because such an enzyme would not be a product of nature, it was patentable.

As is, their actions stymied innovation by preventing others from discovering useful information about BCRA.

I agree with this.


What do you think - say - Genetech, charges for a course of Avastin?

It's on the order of $100,000. Holy fucking shit! Talk about a captive market, huh? You shouldn't have to sell your house to afford medicine. But, that's what Genentech is asking of people. This is also why insurance companies were so eager to drop people once they came down with cancer.

Avastin doesn't have a mechanism of action that's tightly specific to any one form of cancer - rather it prevents the formation of new blood vessels which in turn slows down tumor growth.

Sales topped 2.7 billion in 2008. I think they might have recovered their R&D inputs by now.

I don't know anything about this product.

I don't know how much it cost to develop, how profitable they expect the product to be (ROI), how large the target market is and indeed, what the actual price is.
(math tells me that 2.7 billion * 100,000 = 270 trillion... many times the worlds GDP).

All I know is BYAH evil corporate america BYAH [email protected]!

WarPhalange
30th March 10, 09:27 PM
I agree with this.



I don't know anything about this product.

I don't know how much it cost to develop, how profitable they expect the product to be (ROI), how large the target market is and indeed, what the actual price is.
(math tells me that 2.7 billion * 100,000 = 270 trillion... many times the worlds GDP).

All I know is BYAH evil corporate america BYAH [email protected]!

Sales topped $2.7B, not 2.7B "units" sold.

danno
30th March 10, 09:37 PM
Medical research?

my boy, there would be more research than you can poke a stick at.

(+rep btw)

Arhetton
30th March 10, 09:37 PM
Actually I did something retarded which was assume it was a course of drugs and then thought I was being funny when it just looks stupid.

Here's my point:

$2.7B of revenue is not profit. If the profit was 10% thats 270 million.

Who knows what their margins are (could be higher or lower).

WarPhalange
30th March 10, 10:58 PM
Here's my point:

$2.7B of revenue is not profit. If the profit was 10% thats 270 million.

Who knows what their margins are (could be higher or lower).

True. However, the way it works isn't like in the Hamburger industry, where you buy ingredients, put them together, and sell it slightly higher to get a profit. Here, it's spend a metric fuck ton on research, and then it's pennies to produce your result while you rake in the cash.

It's sort of like that in the Movie/Electronics/Video Game industry as well. A CD costs about a penny to press. Clearly when you spend $50 on a video game, most of it is not going towards production and shipping. Especially if you are buying via Steam.

However, in the case of video games, they get cheaper after a year or so. Most people who were going to buy it already have, and lowering the price entices others to buy it. This is not needed in medicine, because people will always get sick, so charging the same amount of money no matter how long your product has been on the market is just dandy. Especially if there is no competition.

HappyOldGuy
30th March 10, 11:03 PM
However, in the case of video games, they get cheaper after a year or so. Most people who were going to buy it already have, and lowering the price entices others to buy it. This is not needed in medicine, because people will always get sick, so charging the same amount of money no matter how long your product has been on the market is just dandy. Especially if there is no competition.

That would be why patent protection is limited.

bob
30th March 10, 11:07 PM
True. However, the way it works isn't like in the Hamburger industry, where you buy ingredients, put them together, and sell it slightly higher to get a profit. Here, it's spend a metric fuck ton on research, and then it's pennies to produce your result while you rake in the cash.

It's sort of like that in the Movie/Electronics/Video Game industry as well. A CD costs about a penny to press. Clearly when you spend $50 on a video game, most of it is not going towards production and shipping. Especially if you are buying via Steam.

However, in the case of video games, they get cheaper after a year or so. Most people who were going to buy it already have, and lowering the price entices others to buy it. This is not needed in medicine, because people will always get sick, so charging the same amount of money no matter how long your product has been on the market is just dandy. Especially if there is no competition.

The problem with calculating profit margins is that most research projects end up as dead ends, so the ones that do pay off have to pay for all the failed ones as well.

SFGOON
30th March 10, 11:10 PM
I don't know how much it cost to develop, how profitable they expect the product to be (ROI), how large the target market is and indeed, what the actual price is.
(math tells me that 2.7 billion * 100,000 = 270 trillion... many times the worlds GDP).

All I know is BYAH evil corporate america BYAH [email protected]!

If you don't knock this kind of shit off I'm going to flatten my nose from facepalm.

No - Genentech did not sell a round to every man, woman and child in China, all of whom dutifully lined up with a wheelbarrow full of those funny coins with holes in the middle.

Anyhoo - with recombinant proteins (basically everything Genentech makes,) the bacteria colonies do all the heavy lifting synthesis-wise. And, you really only have to manipulate one bacteria to make infinite colonies.

The bitch of it lies in purification - which isn't that hard for such a massive company. The sunk costs for that equipment aren't huge either.

It's not like they piece this shit together one atom at a time.

HappyOldGuy
30th March 10, 11:12 PM
The problem with calculating profit margins is that most research projects end up as dead ends, so the ones that do pay off have to pay for all the failed ones as well.

Although the pharma companies manage the risk on that by often letting tiny startups take stuff through early trials and then taking over when it's ready for (expensive) human trials.

Arhetton
30th March 10, 11:38 PM
True. However, the way it works isn't like in the Hamburger industry, where you buy ingredients, put them together, and sell it slightly higher to get a profit. Here, it's spend a metric fuck ton on research, and then it's pennies to produce your result while you rake in the cash.

It's sort of like that in the Movie/Electronics/Video Game industry as well. A CD costs about a penny to press. Clearly when you spend $50 on a video game, most of it is not going towards production and shipping. Especially if you are buying via Steam.

However, in the case of video games, they get cheaper after a year or so. Most people who were going to buy it already have, and lowering the price entices others to buy it. This is not needed in medicine, because people will always get sick, so charging the same amount of money no matter how long your product has been on the market is just dandy. Especially if there is no competition.

I know that but thank you. If we took microsoft as an parallel - a large corporation that spends billions of dollars developing software - except in this case they are developing a drug - the main difference here is....

The drug does not have a target market of 90% of the worlds home computer OS (hundreds of millions of users). It has a target market of whatever the incidence of the disease is. Very few end users and the high price is to recover the wages of the 'developers' (scientists), capital expenditure, and wasted money, as bornsceptic pointed out.


No - Genentech did not sell a round to every man, woman and child in China, all of whom dutifully lined up with a wheelbarrow full of those funny coins with holes in the middle.


Sorry I just assumed you were a hippy and had made a crazy, unprovable and impossible statement.

SFGOON
31st March 10, 12:51 AM
Although the pharma companies manage the risk on that by often letting tiny startups take stuff through early trials and then taking over when it's ready for (expensive) human trials.

That's called getting bought out! Or as I like to call it, "getting rich!"

jubei33
31st March 10, 02:41 AM
risk is a huge factor in the industry. You guys hear deCODE filled for bankruptcy?

EuropIan
31st March 10, 03:21 AM
That would be why patent protection is limited.
There are ways around that.

EvilSteve
31st March 10, 09:24 AM
But what if I patent the process of using gene #203582 using all of the common laboratory methods to identifya specific gene. There aren't that many.

The protocols for gene sequencing, testing and reproduction are all given in Maniatis (the protocol bible for biotech) so it would be difficult to restrict access to the gene that way.

Also, it's worth noting that the reason drugs cost $100MM-$200MM to develop has less to do with the development cost of the drug than it does the cost of getting FDA approval for the drug. Testing and legal wrangling lead to big bills.

...and products like Vioxx still hit the market.

WarPhalange
31st March 10, 09:27 AM
That would be why patent protection is limited.

Right. How many years is that, again?

HappyOldGuy
31st March 10, 11:05 AM
Right. How many years is that, again?

10-20 depending on where.

HappyOldGuy
31st March 10, 11:08 AM
The protocols for gene sequencing, testing and reproduction are all given in Maniatis (the protocol bible for biotech) so it would be difficult to restrict access to the gene that way.


The general methods yes. The specifics of using them to identify a single gene efficiently enough for commercial application are (sometimes) patentable.