Transcript: Plants as Intellectual Property – Patently Wrong?
Since ancient times, Mother Nature has been a fertile source for drugs used to treat human diseases. One such remedy is the spice turmeric, which has been used for at least 2,500 years. In light of the long and established experience with curcumin, the natural yellow pigment compound in turmeric, as a foodstuff and natural medicine, its low cost, proven disease preventing and treating potential, and safety, curcumin is moving rapidly from the kitchen shelf toward the clinic.
Curcumin has shown some promising effects against a wide range of diseases, so well in fact that curcumin appears to possess all the desirable features of a designed from scratch, multipurpose drug.
If it's so safe and effective, why aren't more studies being done? Part of the delay is attributable to a U.S. patent, granted in 1995 to researchers at the University of Mississippi Medical Center for curcumin’s wound-healing properties, which prevented its development as a therapeutic. In a landmark case, the Indian Council of Scientific and Industrial Research spent years arguing and finally proving that curcumin has been part of the Indian traditional system of medicine for centuries and so should be considered to be in the public domain. It's like patenting broccoli. The patent was finally over-turned in 1997, a triumph for those trying to stop the misappropriation of traditional knowledge by multinational corporations, but if no one profits off it, how's anyone going to hear about it? Who's going to pay for research?
Given that public knowledge does not involve any intellectual property, drug companies are not interested in its commercialization. You can buy turmeric in any grocery store for pennies a dose. “Unless there is intellectual property to make money, nobody will come forward,” said a leading turmeric researcher.
How's his research being funded? Although curcumin itself is no longer patentable, derivatives, formulations, delivery systems, and synthetic methods can be. So, if you take some turmeric molecule and tweak it a little bit, then you can patent it for your investors. Unless phytonutrients can be converted into new chemical entities for which more specific medical claims are possible, the development of these plants seems unlikely. Sure, they're extensively exploited as active ingredients of innumerable products on ill-regulated food supplement markets, but apart from this, progress through clinical trials remains sluggish. Such waste of resources on the way of transformation from renewable materials to high tech/high value products is deplorable, these research scientists write.
So maybe it would be good if Frito-lay did own the patent to broccoli. There's a reason we don't see Super Bowl ads on TV for vegetables.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.
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