Bioethics Discussion Blog: Biopiracy: Knowledge Stealing in Medicine

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Biopiracy: Knowledge Stealing in Medicine


Narrowing the issue begun in my recent thread "Who Owns Science?" I would like to discuss here what has been called "biopiracy".


From Wikipedia:
Biopiracy is a negative term for the appropriation, generally by means of patents, of legal rights over indigenous knowledge - particularly indigenous biomedical knowledge - without compensation to the indigenous groups who originally developed such knowledge. A classic case is that of the Rosy Periwinkle (Madagascar Periwinkle). Research into the plant was prompted by the plant's traditional medicinal role and resulted in the discovery of a large number of biologically active chemicals, including vincristine, a lucrative agent useful during leukemia chemotherapy. A method for purifying vincristine was initially patented and marketed by Eli Lilly. It is widely reported that the country of origin did not receive any payment.

Biopiracy allegedly contributes to inequality between developing countries rich in biodiversity, and developed countries served by pharmaceutical industry exploiting those resources.


The issue is whether it is ethical for pharmaceutical companies to derive medicines and make profit from knowledge acquired from natives, but without the natives' appropriate compensation. Do you see, by this behavior, piracy or if not, what is it? ..Maurice.

GRAPHIC is from a photograph taken by me of a ship's flag and modified by me with ArtRage.

4 Comments:

At Friday, July 18, 2008 9:50:00 AM, Blogger FridaWrites said...

That's exploitation and theft of intellectual property, and the pharmaceutical companies in such a case are benefiting from the research done by others, even if they don't recognize it as research. So, yes, indigenous people need to be involved and not just in a token way. Pharmaceuticals are big money.

Since Eli Lilly presumably pays its own workers for research, why would it not pay for research it acquires in other ways?

What hubris these companies have. I don't know how their execs or insurance execs sleep at night.

 
At Friday, July 18, 2008 11:07:00 AM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

"I don't know how their execs or insurance execs sleep at night." Sarcastically I would suggest "with the help of their company's sleeping potions." Wouldn't it be ironic if those sleeping medications even were derived from information pirated about a native plant. ..Maurice.

p.s.- In all fairness, I really would appreciate if some representative from a pharmaceutical company would find this blog and write here their company's view of this subject.

 
At Saturday, July 19, 2008 7:23:00 PM, Anonymous bob koepp said...

I don't represent any pharmaceutical company, but I sometimes wonder at how loosely terms like 'indegenous knowledge' are used. Was it part of indigenous knowledge that the periwinkle might have antitumor effects? It's my understanding that various indigenous peoples used preparations of periwinkle to treat toothache, scurvy, diabetes and hemorrhage. What sort of knowledge are we talking about, and what role did it play in the discovery of vincristine? I think these and similar questions would need to be addressed before I gave much credence to charges of biopiracy.

 
At Saturday, July 19, 2008 10:13:00 PM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

Bob, good point. What if the initial pharmacologic research was to explore the value of the drug for diabetes but was shown not to be effective, however during the process the anti-neoplastic effect was found. Would the role of the indigenous natives as providing knowledge that stimulated the pharmaceutical investigation of the plant be sufficient to acknowledge their participation in the development of vincristine and warrent their financial compensation for their contribution? In other words, their contribution was to promote the initiation of what turned out to be valuable research regardless of the whether derivative was related to the use they may have described. The ignition of a motor engine is as important to the running and value of the motor as compared to what activity the motor is driving. Without ignition there is no value. ..Maurice.

 

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