Wellcome: The Nih Should Stay Out

The action of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in conferring its alleged interest in the drug AZT on Barr Laboratories represents an unwise intrusion by government into a lawsuit pending between Barr and Burroughs Wellcome ("How AZT could go generic," In Business This Week, July 29).

The unprecedented actions of the NIH raise a serious question about whether private companies, the source of most new drugs, can continue to cooperate with government scientists if they risk having proprietary rights and patents challenged after the uphill battles for clinical success and commercial acceptance have been fought and won.

AZT reached patients in record time, in part because of the cooperation among industry, government, and academic scientists. Now, years later, the NIH is apparently trying to rewrite the rules under which this cooperation occurred. Neither people with AIDS nor other patients with life-threatening illnesses will benefit if hindsight patent challenges inhibit cooperation and future research.

Philip R. Tracy


Burroughs Wellcome Co.

Research Triangle Park, N. C.

Editor's note: The story should have said that Burroughs' revenues (not profits) from AZT were $1 billion since 1987. Wellcome did comment to our reporters on the NIH action; we regret this was not reflected in our story.

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