"In the recent debates on patents, pharmaceutical prices and access to essential medicines, the critical role of scientists and resources of the public sector and academic institutions involved in medical research have often been overlooked. As one of the scientists behind the development of imatinib, which has allowed the effective control of a devastating form of cancer, I have witnessed the vital role that academic researchers and public institutions play in bringing new medicines to the market.
Many scientists, if not most of those I have collaborated with in these settings, are engaged in research primarily motivated by the pursuit of knowledge as a means to help patients. For many of these scientists it is, therefore, of great concern that the results of their efforts canâ€™t reach patients and save lives because of pricing strategies and patent policies such as â€œpatent evergreeningâ€ (minor changes to existing molecules designed to extend patent monopolies) used by partners further down the drug development process...
In the late 1980s, I began collaborating with industry scientists at Ciba-Geigy (now Novartis Pharmaceuticals) who were developing inhibitors for the class of enzymes to which Bcr-Abl belongs...In 1993, I moved to Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland and had a single goal of finding a company that had the best inhibitor for Bcr-Abl and to bring it into clinical trials. My work in Oregon on a therapy for CML was primarily funded by public sources, particularly the National Cancer Institute...The approval of imatinib by the FDA in May 2001 for use in CML was the culmination of a 10-year project for me, something I had dreamed of since medical school.
However, the price at which imatinib has been offered for sale by Novartis around the world has caused me considerable discomfort. Pharmaceutical companies that have invested in the development of medicines should achieve a return on their investments. But this does not mean the abuse of these exclusive rights by excessive prices and seeking patents over minor changes to extend monopoly prices. This goes against the spirit of the patent system and is not justified given the vital investments made by the public sector over decades that make the discovery of these medicines possible.
Public institutions around the world have continuously played a critical role in the research that leads to vital new medicines reaching the market. Without access medical research becomes a luxury good. Most of my colleagues would be very uncomfortable if we felt that this would be the result of our decades of effort."
Hat tip to Spicy IP