Patenting Vitamins

[BPSDB]Nutritionists commonly complain that no research is done on vitamins because nobody can patent them and thus cannot make money out of them. The evidence, like so much connected with the nutrinistas, says something else.

One such is Patrick Holford and he makes the complaint again here. His own career is evidence that he is talking nonsense, he has done rather well out of selling vitamin pills. He sold his company Health Products for life to BioCare for £500,000 and still works for them (1). BioCare, incidently is 30% owned by the pharmaceutical company Elder. Keep that in mind next time you hear him banging on about “Big Pharma”.

Holford is not alone. Another was Philip Porter who trolled my post on Reiki in order to bang on about using vitamin B17 to cure cancer. He too put the lack of research down to the fact that Big Pharma cannot make any money out of vitamins.

On 10 Feb 2009 he posted:

What do you think to the claims by many ordinary folk that B17 or laetrile has healed their cancer. Do you think it is possible that the big pharma has supressed this info because it isn’t a patentable drug which generates profits?

On 22 Feb 2009 he posted:

Big pharma cannot reproduce laetrile in the lab that’s the point, this is why it is of no value to them because it is not able to be made into a patentable drug which can make money.

This was discussed in this Bad Science thread. I am indebted to “Jack” who pointed out the following from the Patents Act (1977):

4A.-(1) A patent shall not be granted for the invention of-
(a) a method of treatment of the human or animal body by surgery or therapy, or
(b) a method of diagnosis practised on the human or animal body.
(2) Subsection (1) above does not apply to an invention consisting of a substance or composition for use in any such method.
(3) In the case of an invention consisting of a substance or composition for use in any such method, the fact that the substance or composition forms part of the state of the art shall not prevent the invention from being taken to be new if the use of the substance or composition in any such method does not form part of the state of the art.

[my bold JQH]

So it would appear that vitamin-pill produces could patent particular treatments. Even if this is not the case, they make plenty of money selling their pills and could afford to do the research. In the case of Patrick Holford, his Institute of Optimum Nutrition bills iself as a research institute. Such research must surely be right up their street. Why don’t they do it?

(1) Ben Goldacre, Bad Science, trade paperback edition p165

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One Response to “Patenting Vitamins”

  1. apgaylard Says:

    A very useful post. As you say it’s a commonly used argument. It is applied to herbs as well. It’s clearly patent nonsense as you show. I had a similar comment made on my blog, even though I had cited this paper. The title says it all:

    Darshan S, Doreswamy R. Patented antiinflammatory plant drug development from traditional medicine. Phytotherapy Research. 2004;18(5):343–357. Available from:

    “Patents secured on antiinflammatory plant drugs derived from 38 plants are reviewed …”

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