Lung cancer biomarkers are getting snapped up ─ fast. Just last month, 50 serum protein biomarkers for lung cancer were awarded to a molecular diagnostics company. According to their press release, the company has patented 50 protein biomarkers that can be used to distinguish between patients with and without lung cancer and to determine the type of lung cancer. The patent also includes a diagnostic process and specific kits.
“This patent highlights ongoing progress in expanding our intellectual property portfolio,” said the company’s press release. “Beyond our core focus areas of ovarian cancer and peripheral artery disease, we now have patents in lung cancer, breast cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. It is our goal to explore business opportunities to leverage this growing and valuable asset.”
I am not a patent lawyer, but this news is both good and bad in my book. The good news is that companies continue to work toward the early detection of lung cancer and they are making significant progress. The fact that one company sees the financial incentive to do this kind of work is wonderful, because it indicates that others are on the same path. And the corporate world has the money to get clinical trials knocked out quickly and efficiently.
The potential downside is that these biomarkers and techniques are now unavailable to other researchers who are trying to move forward with their work. Some companies hoard patents. They find something patentable and grab it without any real interest in pursuing it further. They simply hold patents to stop competitors from having them. I am not implying that this company is hoarding these patents. In fact, their jump in stock price suggests that they will be moving forward with the development of these early detection tools in lung cancer.
However, as the folks from Occupy Wall Street would be quick to tell us, companies are trying to make money. Period. And if, for any reason, it stops being in their financial interest to develop these tests ─ they will have no qualms with shelving this patent and allocating resources elsewhere. After all, the press release doesn’t focus on saving lives. It talks about ‘exploring business opportunities’ and leveraging this ‘valuable asset.’
Nevertheless, I’m willing to give this company some time. Let’s hope they do something with the patent or at the very least make the technology available to public universities. In the meantime, I’m really glad LUNGevity continues to fund research that ensures we are making headway in putting an end to lung cancer mortality.