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NEWS: Sanders Sends Letter to HHS Inspector General Urging Investigation of Exclusive Patent License for NIH-funded Cancer Therapy

WASHINGTON, Oct. 23 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, today sent a letter to Christi Grimm, Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), urging a thorough investigation into the National Institutes of Health (NIH) after the NIH proposed, in the Federal Register, granting an exclusive patent license to an obscure company linked to a former employee for a treatment for cervical cancer that could potentially be worth hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars.

Under the Bayh-Dole Act, the NIH is only supposed to provide an exclusive license to a private company on government-owned inventions when the monopoly would be a “reasonable and necessary incentive” to help advance the product. 

“There does not appear to be anything reasonable and necessary about granting a monopoly for a treatment that was invented, manufactured and tested by the NIH, is already in late stage trials and could potentially enrich a former NIH employee who was one of the major government researchers of this treatment,” Sanders wrote. “Based on current law and the best interest of U.S. taxpayers who paid for this cancer therapy, it would seem to make more sense for the NIH to offer non-exclusive licenses so that multiple manufacturers can produce this important cancer therapy at reasonable and affordable prices. The apparent abuse of the system by the NIH with respect to the exclusive patent license for this cancer therapy is so egregious that it has been characterized as a ‘how-to-become-a-billionaire program run by the NIH.’”

“If accurate,” Sanders wrote, “that would be absolutely unacceptable. The NIH should be doing everything within its authority to lower the outrageously high price of prescription drugs. It should not be granting a monopoly on a promising taxpayer-funded therapy that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for cancer patients in a way that appears to exceed its statutory authority.”

As stated in Chairman Sanders’ letter, this treatment for cervical cancer was invented, manufactured, and tested by the NIH. Alarmingly, one of the leading NIH researchers of this cancer treatment appears to have a direct relationship with the company, Scarlet TCR, and may gain a massive financial windfall as a result of this exclusive patent license.

Sanders requested that the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services immediately initiate an investigation into this matter.

To read the full letter, click here.