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Or when potentially lifesaving inventions are priced so high that access is limited? The public partially underwrites nonprofit discoveries via tax breaks and isn’t seeing a lot of benefit in return.

Questions like these arose recently in the case of CRISPR, the promising new gene-editing technology. After patenting it, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard sold the exclusive right to develop CRISPR-based therapies to its sister company Editas Medicine. Critics worry that this monopoly could limit important research and result in exorbitant prices on emerging treatments.

We’ve seen this situation before: For example, Xtandi, a prostate cancer drug developed and patented by researchers at the University of California-Los Angeles, now costs US$129,000 for a course of treatment.

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Image: Peter Vanderwarker, CC BY

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