What is the controversy all about? And how is it even relevant to an IP blog? Let us look at the actors first, that should give us the IP nexus- Anglo-Swedish pharma giant AstraZeneca, the Swedish anti-corruption agency, two Nobel promotional companies- Nobel media and Nobel web, 2 professors of the Nobel Assembly from the Karolinska Institute and the scientist Haruld Zur Hausen, the 2008 Nobel awardee for Physiology or medicine.
What does AstraZeneca (AZ) stand to gain from this? Apparently, the firm holds the patents to ingredients which are used in the manufacture of vaccines used to fight the papilloma viruses; the vaccines are manufactured by Merck and GSK and the benefits to AZ can be gauged from the fact that Canadian capital Ottawa has committed $300 million for vaccination using Merck’s Gardasil. Laura Woodin, manager of media relations for AstraZeneca in the U.S., responded to the reports thus:
“Because the Nobel Committee of Karolinska Institute, and not the Nobel companies, elects candidates for the prize, AstraZeneca will not be able to influence who will be awarded the Nobel Prize, nor do we ever seek to.”
As for the Nobel Foundation director, Michael Sohlman, he said that “The foundation has 100 per cent confidence in the integrity of the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute, as we have in the other prize-awarding institutes”. Swedish anti-corruption prosecutors are actively investigating the issue
Only a few months earlier, Nobel Prize-winning British scientist Sir John Sulston had warned against the rise of what he called “moral corruption”, for which he held the medical industry responsible. One does not entirely support this opinion, yet I do feel this “Nobel-gate” should be an eye-opener and hopefully the issue gets resolved soon without unnecessarily muddling the reputation of a venerable institution.
Having said this, I couldn’t help being cynical; if an academic’s research is funded by an industry group, it is vehemently argued that the work is biased, that it represents industry views and that it is just a mouthpiece for vested interests. Though I strongly disagree with such a proposition, should one apply the same reasoning to the Nobel controversy as well? If yes, then let this issue be viewed and investigated objectively stripped of any sense of awe or sanctity. This, I say because for every individual, his/her reputation is as important as the next person’s (or in this case the institution’s).
That apart, I sometimes wonder how is it that everyone who is anyone, not even a someone, has a go at the pharma industry in full media glare and does so with absolutely no fear of any legal consequences; some have made their careers out of pharma-bashing with concerns over pharma patents becoming the latest weapon in their arsenal. To ably aid them in this these days, there’s of course the ever-ready anti-IP brigade with the pitch becoming shriller with each passing day. Does this mean that the pharma industry tacitly accepts all that is being hurled at it in the name of safeguarding public interest? So does it admit that there is more than just an element of truth in the “anti-pharma diatribe”?