George Smith, recipient of a 2018 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, spoke to a crowd of students and faculty about the problems that arise from making publicly funded research intellectual property.
Smith said one of the greatest problems facing the scientific research community is the ability of universities to claim intellectual property rights on publicly funded research.
“I think that all research ought not to have intellectual — not to be intellectual property,” Smith said. “It’s the property of everyone.”
He said this is especially a problem in drug research and development.
According to Smith, Humira, an antibody treatment for arthritis and certain autoimmune diseases, emerged from decades of publicly funded scientific research, like the discovery of Humira’s target antigen, TNF alpha. The drug is sold at retail price to U.S. consumers for around $30,000 a year.
Despite this research being publicly funded, we have one company that owns the ability to price that drug, Smith said. He said he believes society is within its rights to demand more equitable distribution of the research they have paid for.
After the talk, Smith told The Plainsman the Bayh-Dole Act, a law passed in 1980 that allowed universities to pursue patent rights, restricts the possibilities of scientific research.
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“It skews research towards things that happen to be monetizable, and makes things that aren’t monetizable downplayed,” Smith said.
He said the Bayh-Dole Act helped Humira gain patent rights to the drug, allowing them to charge their high prices.
This also gets rid of the incentive to do research on drugs similar to the Hepatitis C cure, Smith said. One-time use drugs don’t create a consumer base like Humira, which needs to be taken twice a week for the rest of one’s life.
“I think we should not have a prejudice against cures as opposed to treatments,” Smith said.
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