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Biotech Patents

Researchers Work Around Hepatitis Drug Patent 298

Posted by kdawson
from the academia-vs.-big-pharma dept.
Several readers let us know about a pair of British researchers who found a workaround to patents covering drugs used to treat hepatitis C. The developers intend to produce a drug cheap enough to supply to people in the poorest parts of the world. The scientists found another way to bind a sugar to interferon, producing a drug they say should be as long-lasting and effective as those sold (at $14,000 for a year's supply) by patent holders Hoffman-La Roche and Schering Plough. Clinical trials could begin by 2008. The article quotes developer Sunil Shaunak of Imperial College London: "We in academic medicine can either choose to use our ideas to make large sums of money for small numbers of people, or to look outwards to the global community and make affordable medicines."
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Researchers Work Around Hepatitis Drug Patent

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  • Re:Thumbs up! (Score:5, Informative)

    by wasted (94866) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @03:42AM (#17441152)
    Before the arguments about the effectiveness of this drug compared to the patented one, the morality of patents on medicine and the soviet russia jokes break out; I'd like to show my respect for these people. It's great to see this effort!

    Another patented drug to treat Hep C [reuters.com] is on its way as well.
  • by erlehmann (1045500) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @03:52AM (#17441204)
    ... just vehicles to ensure progress.

    there is no such thing as a "natural right" an inventor has: patent law builds on the premise that a patent is a reward and that many people like to be rewarded.

    you are confusing it with copyright law - which grants the author rights because it is his creation - no one else could habe written harry potter, for example. in contrast, sooner or later someone figures out how molecule XYZ can be synthesized - there usually is no "personal creativity" involved.
  • by poopdeville (841677) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @03:53AM (#17441208)
    Perhaps you've heard of the Hippocratic Oath?

    The relevant bit:

    To look upon his children as my own brothers[1], to teach them this art if they so desire without fee or written promise; to impart to my sons and the sons of the master who taught me and the disciples who have enrolled themselves and have agreed to the rules of the profession, but to these alone the precepts and the instruction.


    [1] An earlier bit mentions the oath taker's "parents." These are to be understood to be his mentors. Thus "his children" are the oath taker's peers.
  • by AuMatar (183847) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @04:18AM (#17441356)
    Actually, copyright is specifically NOT a natural right in the US, although it is considered one in Europe. That was a major hangup in copyright treaties, until they agreed to disagree.
  • Re:Thumbs up! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Znork (31774) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @05:57AM (#17441816)
    Depends on the patent system. IIRC, the system in India specifically only granted the patent on the specific process to make the compound, which let generics manufacturers develop different methods of synthesis and produce the same compound. While, again, if I remember correctly, other countries granted the patent on the method by which the specific compound worked, essentially meaning the medicine itself is patented.
  • Re:NICE!!!!!! (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @07:16AM (#17442188)
    A friend of mine, former junkie, tested clean of Hep C and a few other things after undergoing an 'alternative treatment' of the kind belittled by quackwatch types. He'd been sharing needles for 10 yrs & hooked on methadone for five.
    You'd be amazed at the things you can find out when your mind is clean of the concept that drugs are the answer.
    Drugs are a treatment for symptoms but unfortunately not the cure.
  • by phayes (202222) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @07:17AM (#17442194) Homepage
    I have little sympathy for big pharma but sometimes the high price can be justified. When Taxol was determined to be a promising cancer treatment it's only source was from harvesting the bark of the pacific yew tree. As Taxol was only present in minute quantities in the bark, you needed to sacrifice hundreds of trees to obtain enough Taxol for a single treatment, thus Taxol was extremely expensive. They have since come up with methods of synthesising taxol from precursors in the needles which has allowed them to avoid sacrificing the tree and thus increase production, but it will remain a very expensive drug until they find a reliable means of synthesising it from a more common/inexpensive source.
  • wrong (Score:3, Informative)

    by oohshiny (998054) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @07:52AM (#17442352)
    Patents are simply recognizing the inventor's right to say, "I'll show you how to do X if you promise to do Y."

    Unlike physical property, the Constitution does not recognize the existence of intellectual property or any other intrinsic rights to ideas or inventions.

    Therefore, patents create that right, they don't recognize it. And they create that right only temporarily, only for a very limited set of ideas, and only if the inventor actually lives up to specific requirements.

    In contrast to physical property, the only generally recognized ethical obligation people have with respect to ideas is that they have to attribute them correctly.
  • by wallet55 (1045366) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @08:09AM (#17442428)
    I agree, this would require some specifics to be believable. However, it does get to a truth: drugs can be very very expensive. There are multiple reasons, some of them not obvious. First and foremost, disease populations (ie the drug's customer base) are being split by the more accurate subclassification genomics is affording medicine. This means that a cure for any newly more specific disease is for fewer and fewer people. When you take the higher and higher costs of developement and testing, add in the overhead produced by failed research efforts (the majority), and less time left on the patent (because it takes so long to get it to approval) you have to run the price up even further. There are no brakes on this whole process because right now, even with HMO's, we still pay whatever it takes.
  • Re:Thumbs up! (Score:5, Informative)

    by DRJlaw (946416) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @10:54AM (#17444124)
    Chemical compounds as such are not patentable.

    Absolutely wrong.

    Novel and non-obvious chemical compounds are patentable.

    Naturally occurring chemical compounds may be patentable when claimed as purified forms, as pharmaceutically acceptable salts, etc. While you may argue that it is obvious to purify a compound, when the application is drafted correctly, it often discloses or is based on a qualifying disclosure of a particular compound having a particular and previously unknown utility other than its mere existence. That is sufficient to eliminate the "obviousness" of a generic purification argument.

    Novel and non-obvious uses of known chemical compounds may also be patentable, as you suggested, but that category represents the minority of chemical patent applications.
  • Re:Thumbs up! (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @11:05AM (#17444284)
    According to British TV new, the existing patent covers the hook that binds the sugar to the Interferon. The scientists used lateral thinking to work out a different way of binding the sugar to the Interferon which does not violate the patent.
  • by FallLine (12211) * <fallline@oper a m a i l .com> on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @04:14PM (#17449242)
    And you think those 'studies' will not be done? How many people still buy Tylenol, when there is a perfectly good generic acetaminophen bottle sitting right next to it in most pharmacies for half the cost?
    The same can be said of many things, however this is usually only with something that costs a relatively small amount in the first place so that the percieved price difference is very small for the consumer. This is not the case with generics. Furthermore, it ignores the fact that unless the doctor specifically specifies no generic substitution the rx, most managed care companies will insist that the generic be taken. Most doctors do not do this unless there is a good reason to (in some cases, the generic formulations are not consistent and it can make a difference)... if the doctors abuse this though the payors will tend to get upset.

    Viagra will still sell like hotcakes, even though generic equivalents will be available.
    Some people will still buy viagra when it is off patent. However, research has shown that once generics emerge the revenues of the drug companies decline dramatically -- especially when both the customer and the payor have to pay. This is even true with line extensions.

    (Probably manufactured in the same facility, just with a different label).
    Not terribly relevant, but no, they're not (I know people high up in the foodchain at J&J).

    That's where their marketing budget goes.
    Their "marketing" budget is little understood and vastly overstated by the likes of people on Slashdot. The "marketing" you are thinking of is DTC ads (TV, Magazines, etc) which are only about 1% of revenues (or about 10% of their promotional budget). They spend about 50% of their promotional budget of providing free samples to doctors (which, in turn, doctors give to patients--which are often beneficial) and most of the remaining amount paying their sales reps to promote new drugs.

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