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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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  • Thumbs up! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @03:30AM (#17441094)
    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!
    • 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 TubeSteak (669689)
        Just to clear something up, do companies get a patent on
        A) the medicine
        B) the process(es) necessary to make the medicine?
        • Re:Thumbs up! (Score:4, Interesting)

          by arivanov (12034) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @05:06AM (#17441622) Homepage
          Chemical compounds as such are not patentable. Their use for a specific purpose, synthesis and administration are. That is usually enough to protect a drug to a point where you have effectively patented the compound.
          • 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: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Znork (31774)
          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: (Score:2, Funny)

      by MidVicious (1045984)

      In Soviet Russia, drugs patent you!

      Thanks for the assist ;)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @03:32AM (#17441098)
    Isn't it pathetic that researchers or bussinesses try to find workarounds for patents? This kind of news shows that patent ruling is totally flawed by design. I'm in favor of giving inventor a commercial advantage for his/her invention. This can be tax reduction for product using this patent etc. But giving inventor a monopolistic right is stupid however you evaluate the idea.
    • by joelt49 (637701) <(moc.oohay) (ta) (94tleoj)> on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @03:41AM (#17441146) Homepage
      No, it's not. Inventor's don't have to share anything with the outside world. Patents are simply recognizing the inventor's right to say, "I'll show you how to do X if you promise to do Y." Why shouldn't the inventor have the right do do that? It's his invention after all. There may be specific problems with the implementation of our current patent system, sure. But granting monopolistic privileges in some form is still a good idea and respect's the inventor's rights.
      • 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 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: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by FallLine (12211) *

            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.

            Besides the fact that this is really a philosophical debate now, many of the so-called "natural rights" have drifted too, there is considerable debate about this in the US today. Though Jefferson was clearly influential in advocating the view that IP is mere social contract, this was not the predominant view of the time.

        • I'm glad to see you decided to respect my patent on the </b> tag. If you are interested in using this tag in the future, contact me for licensing rights.
      • 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 NDPTAL85 (260093)
          Perhaps you've heard the Reality Oath?

          "To make as much money as one possibly can, in hopes of not falling too far behind the Joneses."

          Do you really care what a doctor's motivations were as long as they make a cure or treatment for something as fast as they possibly can?
      • by vandan (151516) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @04:22AM (#17441390) Homepage
        No, it's not. Inventor's don't have to share anything with the outside world.

        And where did this inventor get their education from? And their materials? And their food?

        It is the responsibility of inventors to share their ideas with all society. As others have pointed out, they have a right to make a fair living off these ideas. But there is a limit to how 'fair' you can get, and making billions of dollars in profits while others are suffering and dying is going way past that point.

        Joelt, You need to have a good, long think about yourself. Profit is not the most important thing in the world.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Joebert (946227)
          Profit is not the most important thing in the world.

          Perhaps, but the most important thing in the world happens to like guys with big, profits.
        • by hclyff (925743) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @05:20AM (#17441684)
          And where did this inventor get their education from
          Absolutely. All discoveries are done based on previous published research. If every pharmaceutical company kept their research to themselves, there wouldn't be much progress really. Not to mention that in academia, if you don't publish you don't exist. That's where patents sort of come in, to allow and encourage publishing of results done by private companies.

          Think of it this way: if those companies weren't guaranteed profit in case of discovering something useful, they wouldn't do the research in the first place.
          • by Znork (31774) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @06:03AM (#17441832)
            "Think of it this way: if those companies weren't guaranteed profit in case of discovering something useful, they wouldn't do the research in the first place."

            Except, of course, they're not guaranteed the profit for the research, they're guaranteed the profit from having a monopoly. Which essentially means their incentive is to get as much profit out of the monopoly as possible (ie, a huge incentive for marketing) while investing the bare minimum necessary to gain another monopoly into research.

            And, of course, ignoring the fact that if we didnt grant those monopolies could very well be spending the money now going to the pharmas directly on research instead, thus getting more than five times the R&D done for the same amount of money we spend on medicines today.
            • by dwandy (907337) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @08:29AM (#17442580) Homepage Journal
              To show an example [yahoo.com] to illustrate this (picked purely at random, and may not be typical in the industry, but I suspect it is):

              Revenue (ttm) : 52.21B
              Gross Profit (ttm): 42.77B
              Profit Margin (ttm): 24.17%

              ...and this [yahoo.com] shows the industry enjoys about a 65% Gross Margin.

              Contrast that with an industry that doesn't enjoy protection on it's product, say Toyota [yahoo.com] (also picked randomly but assumed to be more or less industry leader at this time)

              Revenue (ttm): 189.92B
              Gross Profit (ttm): 34.83B
              Profit Margin (ttm): 7.00%
              ...and this industry has to make do with only about 19% Gross Margin [yahoo.com].

              So to agree with what you're saying: Pfizer made some 42billion dollars in profits because they have protection on their product; and that profit comes directly from the consumer, and comes directly at the expense of sick people that can't afford the drugs they produce.

              'Research' is an expense which decreases profit. Such large profits are simply monopoly protection income that has not been spent as promised: on research.
              This clearly shows us that we need to at a minimum reduce the patent term, and more realisticly review the very concept of drug patents.

              Anyone who argues that the current patent system is necessary or healthy in the face of these abnormal profits is sick and twisted or stupid or corrupt or maybe all of the above ...

              • by BCoates (512464)
                It's not representative at all; that's Pfizer, who hit the lifestyle-drug goldmine with Viagra and also sells bestselling drug Lipitor. Unless they're running the next Viagra through testing right now and not telling anyone about it, when those drugs go out of patent around 2011, their lucky streak will end and their numbers will go back to something resembling sanity.

                Assuming the numbers on that page are even true, which given the recent track record of American companies, they probably aren't.
              • You managed to slip in an ad hominem attack on anyone who dares disagree with you, before they can even respond. Nice way to encourage rational dialog. Or maybe you're so self centered you believe anyone who ever disagrees with you is defective.
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by Znork (31774)
                If you in and analyze the numbers on the books of the pharmaceuticals you'll also note a other vast differences between their financials and companies like your car producer.

                IIRC, the breakdown is something like this:

                Pharmaceutical:
                35% production
                35% marketing and administration
                15% R&D
                15% profit

                Cars:
                80% production
                10% marketing and administration
                5% R&D
                5% profit

                Now, the pharmaceuticals of course claim that they invest a high amount in R&D, with the comparison against other industries. However, wh
            • by GuyverDH (232921)
              I know this is something of a tangent to the discussion, and may be moderated as off topic, however, I think it fits to portions of the discussion.

              How much money is there in the United States?
              How much has been printed? How much is in circulation? How much has been lost? How much is moldering in a sealed mason jar under Uncle Funkenwagner's front porch?

              The reason I'm asking is this? To what percentage of currently existing, freely exchanged cash do corporations aspire to? At what percentage of collecti
        • by thewiz (24994) *
          But there is a limit to how 'fair' you can get, and making billions of dollars in profits while others are suffering and dying is going way past that point.

          Agreed. When pieces of paper and slugs of metal become more important than people it's a sad, sad day.
          Nice to see people in developed nations taking an interest in helping those who need help without trying to take them to the cleaners.
        • It is the responsibility of inventors to share their ideas with all society.

          No. I used to think this as well, but this is one of the reasons why scientists are treated poorly despite their contributions. We will develop our ideas in any case, but we are under no obligation to share these ideas with an unworthy society. That we do anyway says quite a bit about ourselves as people, but never assume that we are in any way obliged to slave away so everyone else can use, abuse, and profit off of the fruits of

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by noidentity (188756)
        "I'll show you how to do X if you promise to do Y." Why shouldn't the inventor have the right do do that? It's his invention after all.

        The problem is that many discoveries are also given this treatment, preventing use by others who independently discover the same thing.
      • wrong (Score:3, Informative)

        by oohshiny (998054)
        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
      • In practice, it isn't his invention that's getting protected - it's just a monopoly granted against others inventing in the same area. The patent database is almost never referenced. (Also, in the medical field, there's very often public money involved to start with...)

        Eivind.

      • by Jamu (852752)

        The other side of the coin is that patents do more than respect an inventor's rights. Say, an inventor makes an invention and keeps it a secret. Another inventor makes the same invention and decides to share it. This seems all well and good, none of the natural "rights" of the inventors have been infringed. Now consider what happens if the first inventor patents his invention and prevents its use: The patent now stops the other inventor sharing his invention and the public from enjoying it. The move trivial

      • by hey! (33014)
        You put your finger on the fundamental point: do you have a fundamental right to control your ideas, in the same way you have a fundamental right to control decisions about your body, or your personal property?

        This is more than a legal issue. It's an ethical issue.

        Underlying the ethical issue is a model of how ideas are generated. Depending on the version of that model, you end up at a different ethical position and a different opinion on how the law should be changed.

        One model is the genius model. Ther
    • Isn't it pathetic that researchers or businesses try to find workarounds for patents?

      Ordinarily I'd say yes but the drug industry has been doing the same thing for years. It's an established business practice to produce an almost identical drug to an existing one, with the same effect and 99.9% structure then market it as new/improved with a corresponding price hike.
      Basically these guys have just done cheaply for the end user what the drug co's do expensively. Hoisted by their own petard.

    • Don't forget that the patent system demands that an inventor publish a written description of his invention and enable others to practice it without undue experimentation. Without patents, there would be no incentive for private labs to publish any of their research. All work would be kept as trade secrets, and all research sponsored by drug companies would be kept under wraps. Only the hopelessly idealistic would believe that a world without patents would be a nirvana where intellectualism flowed freely
  • by Heir Of The Mess (939658) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @03:43AM (#17441164) Homepage
    For example Australian company Biota [biota.com.au] created and patented Relenza for treating bird flu, then Roche modified their product slightly to produce and patent Tamiflu.
  • 'Cause, if they do, I'd like to donate $10 to their research fund.
  • Good old USA (Score:4, Insightful)

    by oman_ (147713) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @04:07AM (#17441302) Homepage
    A thousand bucks says this is never going to pass FDA testing in the United States... and we'll never find out why.
    • Re:Good old USA (Score:4, Insightful)

      by MosesJones (55544) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @05:03AM (#17441602) Homepage
      Which is actually fine as most people in the US can afford to pay for the drug or have the insurance anyway. I don't think that people in Africa are going to care too much that something doesn't have FDA approval if it is actually proven safe and proven effective by people such as WHO or the Red Cross.

      This isn't aimed at helping the USA, its aimed at helping the rest of the world.
    • by TubeSteak (669689)
      With generic drugs, if the end result of their medicine is chemically the same as a previously approved FDA drug, they get to skip all the expensive human trials & whatnot.

      It seriously shortens the approval process & they (generic drug makers) can usually start the approval process before the 'original' drug's patent protection has worn off.

      But after reading TFA, it looks like they've changed the chemical structure of the end result, so they may need to go through years of expensive clinical trials
  • So, here is proof that money and time was spent researching a useful medication for the good of sick people, regardless of cost of entry and return on investment (financially speaking, at least). So people really can create new ideas without the need to hoard them and profit greatly while excluding others.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by BCoates (512464)
      Claiming "medical patents spur innovation" isn't the same as claiming that "there would be no research at all without medical patents".
      • by Otter (3800)
        In this case, that would effectively be true, anyway. The "innovation" here represents <1% of the process of making the drug in the first place -- if it hadn't been for the companies' developing and testing the compound, there'd be nothing to find an alternate synthesis route to.
  • by Ritontor (244585) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @04:21AM (#17441380)
    Hoffman-La Roche and Schering Plough released a statement today. It reads as follows:

    "FUCK!"
  • by urbanradar (1001140) <timothyfielding AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @04:28AM (#17441426) Homepage
    Looking at the Slashdot frontpage right now, among the stories I see are: "Researchers Work Around Hepatitis Drug Patent", "Wal-Mart Is Pushing Compact Fluorescent Bulbs", "Month of Apple Fixes", "MySQL Falcon Storage Engine Open Sourced", "Creating Prion-Free Cows". Maybe it's just my morning coffee making me optimistic, but it seems to me there's not usually this much positive news on Slashdot! Almost gives you hope for 2007, that does.
  • NICE!!!!!! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Rooked_One (591287) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @04:42AM (#17441502) Journal
    I've undergone pegaylated interferon treatment twice now... didn't work for me, however did for my brother, and you have to have AWESOME insurance to cover this stuff. I doubt the side effects (which are 11 months of hell) are any different, but if it was cheaper, and for the people who relapse when the drug does keep the virus in check, but comes back, this would be great. After the treatment I felt so good for the couple of months that the viral levels were low... I've been hoping for a prophylactic kind of treatment for a long time... I really hope the pharmco's aren't assholes about something like this.
  • Some years back my landlord told me that his dad (who was near 100 years old and living in a nursing home) was on a special medicine that was kept under lock and key and that the he kept the key.
    The pills were locked up at the nursing home but he took the only key to the cabinet home with him.
    He had to drive up there each day, unlock the cabinet and administer a single pill to his dad under the supervision of the head nurse. Each pill was $1,000 and his dad had to take one every single day of his life or h
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by phayes (202222)
      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 th
    • by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @07:27AM (#17442246)
      Are you sure it was really $1000? That's $365,000 a year. The most expensive currently marketed drug is Cerezyme at $175,000 a year, and that's for some weird genetic disorder that only, like 5000 people on the planet suffer from.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by wallet55 (1045366)
        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 o
  • Great argument here - just mention that probably some people will die due to patents and describe the situation with drug patents. Nice one.
  • See? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Digital Vomit (891734) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @07:06AM (#17442156) Homepage Journal
    See? Patents do encourage innovation!...by forcing others to work around existing patents. :-P
  • People should keep in mind that a large part of the development of drugs is already financed by tax dollars. Yes: your tax dollars go towards drugs that drug companies then get a monopoly on in order to sell. It wasn't always so; I believe the law on that changed in 1980.

    As I recall, Krugman did the calculation and computed how much tax dollars subsidize the development of patented drugs and how much tax payers end up paying for purchasing the resulting proprietary drugs, and he came to the conclusion tha
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Overzeetop (214511)
      You could save half of the development costs upfront, as pharma companies already spend more on marketing than on research and development. BTW - only a small fraction of that money goes to the commercials you see - most comes from the armies of representatives that ply doctors offices with samples, notepads, pens, junkets, and other freebies. And it works - they doctors get the dog and pony show, and even if they don't take the free trips/tickets/gifts, they remember the sales pitch.

      I happen to be sucepta

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