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Alert Number 175

Simvastatin, EBV-Driven Lymphomas, Patents

Date: July 21, 2006

In our recent review “The Enemy Within” we cited a very recent PNAS paper that suggested use of statins (simvastatin; trade name, ZOCOR) as potentially valuable in preventing or treating EBV-driven lymphomas. I also lamented that since Zocor is now off patent and cheap, there is no incentive for anyone to push this research, as there is no money to be made doing it. I wrote only the patient community has a stake in promoting this research since it could (possibly) be of value to CLL patients at risk of EBV driven complications. You can read the whole article at The Enemy Within.

In that context, you might find it interesting that our own National Institutes of Health are trying to out-license the use of statins in general and simvastatin in particular as “chemotherapeutics with possibly less severe side effects than currently employed chemotherapies” and suggest that “Cancers associated with EBV that could be treated with the statins”. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and lymphoproliferative disease are listed among the EBV driven cancers, no surprise there. The basis for their efforts to license this technology is the same one that we cited in our review as well — Katano, et al., "Simvastatin induces apoptosis of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)-transformed lymphoblastoid cell lines and delays development of EBV lymphomas," PNAS, 2004 Apr 6, 101(14):4966-4971, doi 10.1073/pnas.0401064101.

You can read the announcement in all its glory by clicking on this link: NIH Technology Transfer Document.

Putting on my professional hat as someone who was deeply involved in intellectual property and licensing, this technology transfer attempt by the NIH seems to be a bit of a stretch. Your tax dollars at work, as it were. Nothing prevents any patient from getting a prescription for Zocor from their GP, especially if they also happen to have mildly elevated cholesterol. Most of us are of a certain age when high cholesterol is a risk factor, and these days the conventional wisdom seems to be that ‘lower is better’ where cholesterol is concerned. How is anyone going to enforce this patent when (if) the NIH succeeds in getting it?

Silly me! Maybe we don’t have to do a darn thing to push this project - all we have to do is wait for a deep-pockets sucker (ahem, I mean drug company) to come along and license this technology from the NIH and do the necessary clinical trials to prove it works in real patients. I will cross this one off of my to-do list. Who needs patient advocacy with the NIH working for us so diligently?

Be well,

Chaya
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