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Patenting Natural Substances

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As more research is done on natural products, and as their efficacy is continued to be proven, medical companies continue to try to get in on the movement towards more “natural” approaches to healing. It may be long overdue, but this trend comes with its share of problems.

Traditionally, one of the biggest barriers to bringing simple vitamins, minerals, herbs and supplements to the forefront of the healing discussion has been the inability to patent such products. In other words, no company can put a patent on Omega-3 fatty acids, or capsaicin, because no company designed or came up with the ideas for these nutrients; they have no exclusive rights to market, sell, and subsequently rake in billions of dollars in profits from these substances. Anybody able to procure them can do that.

We could shake our fists at drug companies, and there certainly is plenty reason to do that; their voracious appetite for profits comes at the expense of patients who take their drugs. This has undoubtedly led to people being hurt and killed in the name of bottom lines. Drug companies have even been implicated in falsifying research in order to bring certain drugs to market. For an industry that churns out so many millionaires and high paid employees, this is beyond unacceptable. It is completely justified to hold them in contempt.

In some part though, the problem lies with huge sums required to bring drugs to market. It has been estimated to cost in the area of $800 million to bring a new drug from study to market; some have even pegged the number as high as $1.3 billion. With that much money invested in research and development, is no wonder that drug companies want to protect their investment with a patent guaranteeing exclusive marketing and selling rights.

Nevertheless, all natural substances like capsaicin and Omega 3 fatty acids are getting second glances from drug companies. It fairly commonplace to see these two supplements sold in big box retailers; they’re fairly mainstream. But you are also now seeing them used (in the case of Omega 3’s) in prescription drugs, such as Lovaza. A deodorized form of capsaicin is also sold at local pharmacies under the brand name Capzasin.

While it is wonderful that the mighty drug companies are finally conceding that natural substances have a place amongst their chemical drugs, it is worrisome to think what they may do in order to have a marketing edge. It is not out of their grasp to alter the chemical structures of these compounds. Why would they want to fix something that isn’t broken? The answer undoubtedly lies on the bottom line.

It will be interesting to see how deeply drug companies are going to get involved in the supplement world. For the time being though, I plan on sticking to the all natural, unaltered supplements that I know are safe and effective. And, at least for the time being, I don’t have to go to the doctor to get a prescription in order to get them.


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