Recently JAVMA published a letter to the editor and we’d like to give the author kudos! He was disappointed that after years of using a particular product, a clinical trial revealed the drug was not effective. He placed his faith on recommendations from trusted and respected colleagues, board certified specialists and continuing education speakers. They didn’t base their opinions on clinical data and that led to years of using a drug for pain in dogs that was just shown to have a complete lack of effect. We all recognize the importance of new scientific evidence, lack of funding for many projects, and the burden on the people that provide treatment recommendations to know and understand the supporting data- or lack thereof-before dissemination of their opinion. We concur with the statement in response to the letter that many clinicians, if they looked at the information used in the daily treatment of patients, would likely be shocked to find out just how little clinical data are truly available to support current recommendations, or how many opinions are not based on experience or understanding-just a conflict of opinion.
We have taken a different path with our work. Rather than patenting the intellectual property (IP) and then licensing the technology, on completing research we decided to make our work available to those who needed it, and open the discussion. Has it cost us in many ways? Yes. But then, I grew up in the scientific community at a different time. Once upon a time, that would be the 1970’s, we shared data and discovery. I was a lab rat back then, spending many hours with the fluorescent microscope-looking at how Chinese hamster ovary cells responded to ATP stimulation. OK, I get it. But the experience was good. We shared samples and “stuff” that moved knowledge forward. I used that experience to look at Leptospira and Moon Blindness, another immune mediated condition, for my Masters thesis. Then off to veterinary school. While I was practicing veterinary medicine in the field over the next 20 years, things changed. There was the biochemical revolution that spawned the field of molecular biology, and PCR, and proteomics. Suddenly things like PCR, had monumental value. Everything was DNA and genes. Heck, whole organisms are patented-Neospora comes to mind, (quick update, the patent office won’t do that anymore). To use the IP, one has to have a license and pay royalties. The revolution was in the 80”s to the 90’s, the patent for PCR was filed on June 17, 1987.
When I returned in 1999 to work on my PhD, in molecular biology of course, everything went through the University’s Office of Licensing and Technology (OLT). Universities recognized the value of IP. No more sharing. No more shared discovery. Heck, recently I wanted to use a video to help veterinarians get CSF taps using a standing procedure. I was told there would be a largish up front fee followed by a royalty due for each use…one fee for every veterinarian that viewed the tape. It was explained to me the video is like a Beatle’s song-and they wanted to hold my hand. I made my own video and freely gave it out hoping to get veterinarians to collect CSF and support our Orogin trial. Oh, we were criticized, one veterinarian wanted the video removed and not shared because all those horse owners would be getting CSF taps on their own horses.
We persevered, partially due to the words of one of my PhD professors, Ellis Greiner, “Science is self-correcting”. If I continued to do work, collaborate with those with true curiosity and an open mind, we would eventually see the day when our ideas would receive acknowledgement and open discussion. Because that is what science is, open discussion of ideas. To that end we publish our work, in peer reviewed journals, and submit our papers and abstracts for presentation at scientific meetings. We collected and shared samples, (DNA, RNA, organisms), and imparted ideas, traveled to NIH and Washington and beyond; we teleconferenced, (with Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, and even Kentucky), with those who were open to the burden of review. There was plenty of criticism from those who didn’t take the time to understand, review and hold an open discussion. We carefully persevered, leaving breadcrumbs. Sure, we patented some IP. And made some IP public so that others can’t patent it. The IP is available to everyone.
I think the long awaited day is dawning. The discussion at the upcoming EPM special information session will have a panel discussion on the evidence of the role of S. neurona in infection and disease. Is it a disease of low parasite burden-host mediated pro-inflammatory response or is disease a reflection of high parasite burden resulting in direct injury to the CNS? they ask. We are presenting two papers, the most important is our recent data on polyneuritis equi. Our work is important because our evidence supports, and may identify, one inflammatory pathway for disease. The story we tell is one of relapsing disease and hope of treatment. Our story identifies a protagonist molecule and the hero horse heading off with all four legs moving in proper order. We look forward to SIG participants that will critically review what we have done. We welcome suggestions or guidance on our errant interpretations. Perhaps some will return to their laboratories and repeat our work. Or collaborate without IP on the mind. They may claim no funding-we are used to that because we are self-funded. No big grants, although we’d gladly accept one.* We are optimistic that this may be the moment. We’ll let you know Dr. Greiner, and if our time has not come, we will continue to drop those breadcrumbs.
*Disclaimer: We are a for profit company. We do not accept tax-exempt donations. Nor do we accept generously offered dowry’s from grateful horse-owning newly weds-although we gratefully appreciated the gesture.