Deadly Monopolies : The Shocking Corporate Takeover of Life Itself--And the Consequences for Your Health and Our Medical Future.
From the award-winning author of Medical Apartheid, an expos� of the rush to own and exploit the raw materials of life--including yours.
Think your body is your own to control and dispose of as you wish? Think again. The United States Patent Office has granted at least 40,000 patents on genes controlling the most basic processes of human life, and more are pending. If you undergo surgery in many hospitals you must sign away ownership rights to your excised tissues, even if they turn out to have medical and fiscal value. Life itself is rapidly becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of the medical- industrial complex.
Deadly Monopolies is a powerful, disturbing, and deeply researched book that illuminates this "life patent" gold rush and its harmful, and even lethal, consequences for public health. It examines the shaky legal, ethical, and social bases for Big Pharma's argument that such patents are necessary to protect their investments in new drugs and treatments, arguing that they instead stifle the research, competition, and innovation that can drive down costs and save lives. In opposing the commodification of the body, Harriet Washington provides a crucial human dimension to an often all-too-abstract debate.
Like the bestseller The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Deadly Monopolies reveals in shocking detail just how far the profit motive has encroached in colonizing human life and compromising medical ethics. It is sure to stir debate--and instigate change.
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October 04, 2011
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Excerpt from Deadly Monopolies by Harriet A. Washington
A NEW LEASE ON LIFE: The Patent in American Medical Culture
How does it feel to be patented? There was a sense of betrayal. I mean, they owned a part of me that I could never recover. I certainly have no objection to scientific research . . . but it was like a rape. In a sense, you've been violated, for dollars. My genetic essence is held captive.
-John Moore, the subject of u.s. patent no. 4,438,032
In 1982, the mother of Japanese biotechnology scientist Dr. Heideaki Hagiwara was suffering from cervical cancer.1 When he learned that Dr. Ivor Royston at the University of California at San Diego was developing cell lines to treat cancer, he asked to join the laboratory and, once there, convinced Royston to use tumor cells from Hagiwara's mother's lymphatic system to create a therapeutic cell line.
A cell line is a community of cells, usually animal or human, that grows continuously in the laboratory, proliferating indefinitely under glass in precise, artificially maintained conditions, where it is used in research. In a warm living body, with its genius for homeostasis, every cell receives ample oxygen and nutrients in a dynamic environment tailored to its needs. But cells exiled to the cold, sterile prisons of unresponsive glassware tend to die quickly without the most assiduous coddling, although cancer cells live somewhat longer. Cell culture is the meticulous process by which optimal temperature, gas concentrations, and nutrients, which vary with the type of cell being cultured, are maintained, often with great difficulty.
Carefully tended cell cultures boost medical research by providing living human material for risk-free testing of the effectiveness and safety of drugs. But cell cultures can also host viruses and other pathogens, permitting them to be prepared in quantity for the manufacture of vaccines. Polio, measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox viruses are currently produced in cell cultures. In the early twentieth century, Ross Granville Harrison of Johns Hopkins University established the technique of maintaining cells in vitro and dubbed it tissue culture.2 Because cancer cell lines are somewhat more long-lived than those of "normal" human cells, many extant cell lines are derived from cancers. By the mid-1900s, cell cultures were commonly used in laboratories.3
Some cell lines retain the characteristics of and produce substances that are peculiar to their cells of origin. Royston was working on a cell line that he hoped would treat cancers by producing antibodies that attack cancer cells. Hagiwara suggested that he use lymph cells from his sick mother, and Royston did so, fusing Hagiwara's mother's cells to the line. UCSD researchers soon agreed that this particular cell line possessed unique cancer-fighting properties, so Royston patented the promising cells. Hagiwara then returned to Japan, surreptitiously taking with him a sample of the cell line, which he used to treat his mother, who rallied but ultimately succumbed to her cancer.
Months later, Hagiwara gave the cell line to his father, Dr. Yoshide Hagiwara, who was also a biomedical researcher, for use in the family firm, the Hagiwara Institute of Health in Osaka. He claimed patent rights to the cell line and the antibodies it produced because it emanated from his mother's body, entitling his family, he said, to a financial interest in the cell lines. The U.S. Office of Technology Assessment disagreed and sued Hagiwara fils for taking the patented cells without permission.4 Hagiwara argued that despite the UCSD patent, the fact that the cell line had originated with his mother's tissues gave his family rights to the cells as well.
Hagiwara won these rights in a 1983 settlement with the university that gave the Hagiwaras the sole license to the patent throughout Asia.5 Patented entities can be licensed in an exclusive or a nonexclusive manner, and they can be licensed for specific geographic regions, and even for specific uses.6 In this case, the Hagiwaras' agreement with UCSD permitted them to use the line in research, but not to license it commercially elsewhere.
Twenty years later, another family affair was handled quite differently when FBI agents tracked down, arrested, and jailed Dr. Jiangyu Zhu, thirty, of China and Dr. Kayoko Kimbara, thirty-two, of Japan on June 19, 2002, in La Jolla, California.
The married couple were former fellows of Harvard Medical School who had resigned to pursue new research positions. But their time at Harvard had been very fruitful: from November 1998 through September 1999, Kimbara identified two genes that block the action of calcineurin, an enzyme that signals the immune system to reject transplanted organs. This was a potentially lucrative discovery that could transform organ transplantation by leading to immunosuppressive drugs, medicines that drastically lower the risks of organ rejection. It also was a potential treatment for several diseases that affect the cardiovascular, immune, and nervous systems, which multiplied its commercial potential. Then, on October 22, 1999, Harvard filed a provisional patent on the two genes and their products.
On December 13, 1999, Zhu and Kimbara accepted university research positions at the Institute of Biotechnology at the University of Texas, San Antonio, and when they left Harvard, they took some materials and notes with them, as researchers are wont to do. They were to begin on January 15, and by early January 2000 they shipped some additional materials from Harvard to their new lab.
But the university's complaint says that in direct violation of the participation agreement signed by both Zhu and Kimbara, Zhu emailed Medical and Biological Laboratories of Nagoya, a biochemical company in Japan,7 indicating that he intended to collaborate with a researcher there to commercialize the antibodies suggested by his Harvard gene research after he left Boston. Harvard says that Zhu also sent three other genes to Japan without its knowledge.
Harvard officials angrily accused Zhu and Kimbara of violating the terms of their agreement by sneaking into the lab in the wee hours to remove contested material, and of lying about having done so. The duo denied this, and the facts were never established in court. But according to the university's complaint, the Japanese company did succeed in producing antibodies against two of the three genes and then shipped them to Zhu at the University of Texas, where he now ran his own lab.
Removing materials is not a crime and is certainly not prosecuted unless the materials are alleged to be the property of the university, not the researcher. Even removing university property is acceptable if the amounts are not excessive and the researcher has appropriate permission. If the accusations of having lied about the removal of large quantities of university property are true, the couple become less sympathetic.
But it is important to evaluate such actions in the context of research culture: researchers typically remove materials from their laboratories when they leave for other institutions and sometimes do not ask permission to do so. There is no question that Heideaki Hagiwara, for example, had violated the spirit and the letter of the agreements he signed, yet he and UCSD were able to come to an amicable arrangement that recognized his contribution and shared the rights in the contested cell line. Therefore, many in the research community felt that Harvard overreacted when the university decided to play hardball.