Pay attention, redheads, blondes, coastal dwellers and everyone who has ignored their mother’s warning to always wear sunscreen—a miracle has been discovered! Whether it will reach all of us who are worried about, experienced, or have relatives who have been affected by melanoma, in time is another question, but in the cancer drug world, at least two major drug researchers have devised a method “of harnessing the body’s own immune system to fight cancer.” More specifically, melanoma. The “heated race” that spurred more money, time and brain power into finding a way to combat one of our worst fears has reached courtrooms now, too. Bristol-Myers Squibb contends that Merck is violating their patent on the anti-cancer method. Lawyers everywhere are scrambling for their sunscreen before heading out the door, and nowhere less than in Texas, where the hot sun would send a patent attorney in San Antonio scrambling for shade before he picks up on the news detailed in this Wall Street Journal article.
If, as a reader, you’re detecting a hint of sarcasm, congratulations! You’ve been paying attention like you were asked to from the start (unless you began reading because you never wore sunscreen in the first place). The legal issues of pharmaceutical and cancer research are an interesting subject, not least because of their potential benefit for collective humanity, or their potential earnings if one company can maintain a hold on the patented miracles. A patent attorney in San Antonio with an interest in drug and medical therapy-related cases might indeed point to the “heated races” that are responsible for the quicker development of such drugs. After all, companies have to be motivated to develop new products, and what better motivator than a little competition and a lot of money?
But there is something that’s unsettling about the whole set up of the cancer research and big pharma market that’s tough to ignore, even for a patent attorney in San Antonio who doesdaily wear sunscreen. Part of it has to do with the $30 billion that’s projected to evolve from just the next 10 years, from just this one therapy that Bristol-Myers is making exclusive claim to. Another part of it is the 8.2 million deaths per year due to cancer worldwide. In one sense, you’d think that we as researchers would be scrambling to develop cancer-fighting drugs for the good of collective humanity, not for what our pockets can collect.
But businessmen see it differently, as a patent attorney in San Antonio – or anywhere else for that matter – would probably tell you. In fact, it was a professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan who wrote in to Wall Street Journal to clarify that, “The competitors in the melanoma and broader cancer market will fight in every arena they can drag each other into. The stakes are too high to let any patent go unchallenged. After you have put hundreds of millions at risk to develop a drug, you are willing to spend many more millions fighting for its success.” Which makes sense after all, I guess, even if it means there is one less provider of an anti-cancer miracle in the global market.