Plants as Intellectual Property – Patently Wrong?

Plants as Intellectual Property – Patently Wrong?
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Barriers to patent natural commodities, such as the spice turmeric, keeps prices low—but if no one profits, where is the research funding going to come from?

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

“Since ancient times, ‘Mother Nature’ has been a fertile source for drugs used to treat human disease[s]. One such remedy is the spice turmeric, which has been used for at least 2500 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 [rapidly moving] from the kitchen shelf toward the clinic.”

Curcumin has shown “[s]ome promising effects” against a wide range of diseases, so well, in fact, that “[c]urcumin 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, that 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[s] for centuries, [and so] should be considered [to be] in the public domain.” It’s like patenting broccoli. “The patent was finally overturned 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 the 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 patented.” So, if you, like, 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. Such wasted potential, right, since nobody profits.

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.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

“Since ancient times, ‘Mother Nature’ has been a fertile source for drugs used to treat human disease[s]. One such remedy is the spice turmeric, which has been used for at least 2500 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 [rapidly moving] from the kitchen shelf toward the clinic.”

Curcumin has shown “[s]ome promising effects” against a wide range of diseases, so well, in fact, that “[c]urcumin 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, that 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[s] for centuries, [and so] should be considered [to be] in the public domain.” It’s like patenting broccoli. “The patent was finally overturned 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 the 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 patented.” So, if you, like, 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. Such wasted potential, right, since nobody profits.

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.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Nota del Doctor

This reminds me of The Lie That Heals: Should Doctors Give Placebos? In that video, I went into the topic thinking one thing, but realized that there are strong arguments to be made on both sides.

Turmeric is pretty amazing stuff. Even if we won’t hear about most of the research, because companies can’t patent it, we can educate ourselves:

The concept that the curcumin in turmeric is able to target multiple disease pathways simultaneously is explored further in my follow-up video, Magic Bullets vs. Promiscuous Plants.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

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