Sanders questions NIH-backed cancer drug with exclusive patent

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is urging HHS to investigate the National Institutes of Health's proposal to grant an exclusive patent to a cancer drug that NIH invented, manufactured and tested. 

In an Oct. 23 letter to HHS' inspector general, Mr. Sanders said the exclusive patent teed up for Scarlet TCR's cervical cancer gene therapy requires the department's "immediate attention."

"I am growing increasingly alarmed that not only has the NIH abdicated its authority to ensure that the new drugs it helps develop are reasonably priced, it may actually be exceeding its authority to grant monopoly licenses to pharmaceutical companies that charge the American people, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs," the letter says.

Current law allows the NIH to hand out exclusive licenses to private companies with government-owned inventions "when the monopoly would be a 'reasonable and necessary incentive' to help advance the product," the letter says. 

Mr. Sanders said Scarlet TCR's gene therapy, for which the NIH proposed the patent in September, could be worth billions of dollars and create a monopoly.

The legislator asked HHS to investigate the exclusive patent given to Scarlet TCR — "a company so obscure that it does not have a website and has not made a single filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission" — and possible ethics rule violations.

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