Monday, October 20, 2008

Science Looks at Plumpy'Nut Patent

As part of a larger piece in Science on whether Plumpy' Nut should be used to prevent malnutrition as well as to treat it, Martin Enserink takes a separate look at the patent controversy. I wish the piece was longer (and suspect Enserink does too) but it's a great introduction to the topic--well worth reading if you have access to Science online or a good library.

As regular readers know, I've followed this controversy for almost exactly a year now. (See two key posts here and here.) I even started a separate blog devoted just to Plumpy'Nut and patents while at Harvard when the parameters of my fellowship did not allow me to write freelance pieces. (I quickly learned public health experts don't want to become journalists in their own right.) So I applaud any attention this issue gets from traditional media.

Two data points I want to remember from Enserink's excellent article:

". . . Nutriset and the French Institute of Research for Development obtained patents for Plumpy’nut that last until 2018 and are valid in Europe, North America, and about 30 African countries. Nutriset has threatened lawsuits to keep others—including Compact in Norway and MSI in Germany—from selling similar pastes. . . ."


". . . the patent [IS NOT] valid in many malnutrition hot spots, including India . . . "

As I learned in my own reporting, Enserink says it's unclear the Plumpy' Nut patent could withstand a challenge.

But I was most intrigued by what Michael Golden, the developer of an older non-patented nutritional supplement, had to say. Golden told Enserink that

"the pressure should not be on Nutriset but on the French government; [Golden] hopes that France’s foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, a physician who helped found MSF in 1971, will intervene."

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