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Science was not meant to be a money-making enterprise


The impact of the Bayh-Dole Act
Leonard Hayflick Scientist
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The third major thing that happened was an executive order by President Reagan, who said in an executive order that any... this became an issue even in the defence industry, where people who made things under government contract for the Defense Department could exploit aspects of it for commercial gain, and so it was also an issue in that respect, that is, title.

Reagan published an executive order that said: any things that are discovered in research laboratories under government grants or contracts may be exploited by commercial interests to the benefit of the public, and the purpose of this is to better increase the United States' advantages in international competition for materials and things like that, because other countries could come in and do the same thing, following the published... my published work, for example, and benefit from American taxpayers' money spent for that research for another country's benefit.

And this was one of the motivations for Reagan's... executive order. But a year or two later, that executive order was cast in concrete in a congressional law called the Bayh-Dole Act – B-A-Y-H, Dole, D-O-L-E, Act – in which it specifically stated that anything discovered on a government grant or contract or with taxpayers' funds, and in my case that was... that's questionable and I would take the position that it wasn't, but even if it was, the Bayh-Dole Act said that anything discovered in a laboratory with government funds like WI-38 could be exploited commercially, which I never did exploit commercially.

So those elements now forced the Justice Department into a corner, because even during this period of time, it became apparent to the... to the NIH [National Institutes of Health] that the biotechnology industry was terrific. It was now using research conducted by their grantees to produce products that had great benefit to the public. And so they embraced that concept on the one hand; of course, a huge organisation, they embraced it on the one hand. On the other hand, they are suing me for doing precisely what they have embraced, and they found themselves in an intolerable position.

In fact, they went on to do things that I would never have dreamt of. They hold science fairs once a year at the NIH. All of the people at the NIH are government employees. I was not. Everything at the NIH is owned by the government except the oxygen that they breath. Each year, the NIH has a science fair in which they ask commercial interests to come to Washington, to the NIH, and look at the discoveries that were made during that year in the hopes that industry will buy those discoveries. Well, I mean, that's going about as far as you can go. If you had... if the NIH had done something like that... anybody, any government employee or grantee had done that in 1961, they would have gone to prison for life.

Leonard Hayflick (b. 1928), the recipient of several research prizes and awards, including the 1991 Sandoz Prize for Gerontological Research, is known for his research in cell biology, virus vaccine development, and mycoplasmology. He also has studied the ageing process for more than thirty years. Hayflick is known for discovering that human cells divide for a limited number of times in vitro (refuting the contention by Alexis Carrel that normal body cells are immortal), which is known as the Hayflick limit, as well as developing the first normal human diploid cell strains for studies on human ageing and for research use throughout the world. He also made the first oral polio vaccine produced in a continuously propogated cell strain - work which contributed to significant virus vaccine development.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: United States, National Institutes of Health, Ronald Regan

Duration: 4 minutes, 11 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2013

Date story went live: 14 June 2013