Biotechnology as a major field within science has led to many new companies copying the Genentech blueprint: having a small company creating commercially viable products to earn profits. This movement from a purely academic scope of research to a company thriving in an industrial market has become a popular choice for those interested in the sciences, offering more career opportunities. From the 1970s on, a number of companies would emerge to follow the example set by Genentech. This would result in a major growth of the field, located in California.
California has become the true center of biotechnology in the U.S, as the birth place of the industry as well as having numerous companies making products in a multitude of fields. Because of this environment, being surrounded by other biotech companies, a sense of innovation is greatly encouraged, as competition will enable a surge of creativity. This anthology details several examples of how California has become the epicenter of biotech, ranging from peculiar facts about the history of Californian biotech to present companies developing new products within the biotech field. The hotbed of innovation exhibited by the California environment is shown through the amount of diverse companies and novel products.
Continue reading “California: Hotbed of Innovation”
Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech by Sally Smith Hughes is an engaging look at the birth of a new type of industry, the field of biotechnology. Research with the natural sciences has always been an academic pursuit, to figure out how the world and everything in it functions. However, in the 1970s, as biology and chemistry continued to develop alongside technology, business was bound to get involved. Hughes, as a scientific historian from the hotbed of technology and biotech in California, details the entire life of the first Biotech company, Genentech. Her genealogy of the story on this small, yet influential company begins with the technique of producing recombinant DNA and the capacity to produce a large amount of clones of the desired DNA. From this scientific breakthrough, a few key players would emerge, and eventually start Genentech, with a goal of using recombinant DNA to make industrial products. Continue reading “Biotech and Business: The emergence of private sector Biology”
“Reimers administered a patenting and licensing program that actively solicited faculty inventions for patenting in a manner new to academia. He read the Times article and immediately called Cohen to discuss a possible patent application. The suggestion caught Cohen by surprise. Despite his recognition of the invention’s potential practicality, his reaction was to question whether one could or should patent basic research findings. At the time, biomedical scientists in American universities were seldom preoccupied with patenting and intellectual property protection, even at a university as entrepreneurial as Stanford” (21).
In this quote, Cohen questions whether one could or should patent basic research findings, especially those that involve useful and general health information. Insulin and growth hormone are both crucial to development and survival, more so insulin, so why should there be any monopoly on this research. Cohen clearly was not motivated or incentivized by patent or intellectual property protection to conduct and follow through on his research. Moreover, his effort put into the field does not come from a selfish place of profit-seeking legal protection. After all this is academia where research is one of the main reasons for one’s craft, so one does have to enjoy this line of work in the first place. Granted, this was in the 1970s where particular pharmaceutical patents, notable ones born from academia, were not seen as outlets for patent-based incentives. Has this culture changed? When in the realm of crucial health research, are patents the first step to legitimizing research? Obviously this is the case because patents are seen as more necessary in this industry. Patents are not as much incentives as they are confirmations, or so it seems.
“The healing potential of plants used by indigenous people may end up providing profits to drug manufacturers as a direct result of their patent rights, while people in poor nations where the plants are found cannot afford basic medical care. The industry argues that a patent is necessary for them to invest in the development of new drugs, whose production benefits everyone” – Eric Grace, 207
I believe this situation is a very serious one and should be taken that way. In theory, there are two legitimate claims to the argument, but in reality, the pharmaceutical industry is taking advantage of their monopoly of industry in society. Indigenous people do not have an obligation to share their medical traditions with modern industry, but at the same time, pharmaceutical industries do have an obligation to use their resources to benefit all of society. This does not mean that they should exploit the indigenous people’s knowledge by using patents unfairly, but should work as hard as possible to first obtain the knowledge fairly with some kind of compensation, and second make the new medicine available and accessible to the indigenous people. If the companies make drugs that are not accessible to everyone, it can be argued that the drugs do not “benefit everyone”, and the companies are simply making profit for their own benefit.
The price of patented drugs, however, is often artificially inflated due to the monopoly, putting them out of reach of many people and increasing health insurance costs (Johnson, 207).
Before reading this chapter, I had no idea that this happened and was very surprised to discover that it does. Although these patented drugs have the potential to benefit so many, they are out of reach for most people financially. I understand why people could have ethical issues with this. Maintaining a healthy life should not come at an inflated price. Personally, I find it unfair for the individuals and families who may need these drugs but cannot afford them.