ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Who Invented Glivec? Does It Matter Anyway?

This article looks at Glivec’s journey from its invention to its patenting and sale while questioning the concept of credit for inventions in science and technology.

In 2003, the then Novartis Chief ;Executive Officer Daniel Vasella published a book (Vasella and Slater 2003) in praise of Glivec detailing his firm’s major role in delivering this uncommonly effective life-saving medicine. But, who was really responsible? In the original US patent,1 one single person is named as the inventor: Jürg Zimmermann of Ciba Geigy (later Novartis). In the later US patent on the beta crystalline form, held in India to be unpatentable, Zimmermann is joined by two Novartis colleagues.2 However, contrary to what this might suggest, chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) patients would never have received a product called Glivec if they had had to rely solely on Novartis.

Credit in science and technology is a devilishly tricky matter to be objective about. Effort, dedication, inspiration, vision, ambition, intuition, counter-intuition, advanced technical knowledge in one or more disciplines, skill, serendipity, networking abilities, and sheer bloody-mindedness, all help make a creative achievement possible. But, assessing what contributions and which people are not just important, but indispensable, can be a tough task.

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