Opinions and Editorials

Apr. 20, 2020

MassLive: Thank Obscure Law, Bayh-Dole Act, for Potential Coronavirus Vaccine by John T. Preston

At government, university, and private-sector research labs across the country, scientists are working around the clock to better understand the coronavirus. The resulting lab breakthroughs could soon become experimental treatments and vaccines. According to the Milken Institute over 70 treatments for COVID-19 are already in clinical trials or progressing toward clinical trials.

Several of the inventions behind this flurry of activity resulted from government funded research in US universities and indeed, one company founded by MIT alums with technologies licensed from universities, Moderna, is already taking a candidate coronavirus vaccine into human trials.

This public-private cooperation is our best hope of defeating the virus. It’s also the foundation of our entire drug development system. And it simply wouldn’t be possible without an obscure law known as the Bayh-Dole Act.

Not many Americans have heard of Bayh-Dole. But everyone has felt its effects. For 40 years, this bipartisan policy has allowed university and non-profit researchers to retain ownership of patents that result from federally funded research, and then license those patents to private-sector companies that have the know-how and resources to turn good ideas into viable products.

The law has delivered an incredible return on taxpayers’ investment. American research universities’ patent awards have risen steadily over the last four decades, increasing from just 390 in 1980 to nearly 7,500 in 2017. To date, Bayh-Dole has contributed over $1 trillion to America’s economic output and has supported 4 million jobs and more than 11,000 startups.