A Seattle Man Vents His Spleen Against Those Who Would Use It for Profit
Moore's bizarre tale began in 1976, when he was diagnosed as having hairy-cell leukemia, a rare form of blood cancer. Seeking a second opinion, the father of two flew to Los Angeles, where he was examined by a respected expert in the field—Dr. David Golde, 44, chief of hematology/oncology at the UCLA Medical Center. Golde confirmed the diagnosis and recommended a splenectomy. Moore agreed to submit to the surgery, and in October 1976 another UCLA physician removed the grossly enlarged organ. Dr. Golde requested and received a piece of the diseased spleen for further analysis.
Working with his assistant, technician Shirley Quan, Golde studied the spleen tissue and discovered that it possessed unique properties. The components of Moore's blood stimulate the body's immune system so that it can combat various forms of cancer, possibly AIDS and other viral diseases. In January 1981 Golde and Quan applied for a patent on the cells, which they named the "Mo" cell line after Moore. Under University of California policy the patent rights were assigned to the university itself, but any profits would be split evenly—with half going to the school and half to Dr. Golde and Quan. That issue was hardly academic: Within a few months Dr. Golde and Quan had signed a contract worth $440,000 to study the therapeutic properties of the cells for the Genetics Institute of Cambridge, Mass. If the cell line proves productive, claim medical experts, it could generate millions of dollars in profits. The Genetics Institute already has successfully cloned two of the most useful components of the Mo cell line so they can now be produced commercially. If clinical trials verify their value, these components will then be internationally marketed.
Meanwhile, John Moore, who says he knew nothing of these deals, was back in Seattle and recovering nicely. The symptoms of his disease disappeared, but he agreed to fly to Los Angeles twice a year for examination. Dr. Golde took blood samples each time during an eight-year period and discovered that Moore's blood contained more than half a dozen unusual components that increased the effectiveness of his body's immune system. After several expensive trips to L.A., Moore asked Dr. Golde if his blood samples could be taken in Seattle instead. At that, says Moore, Dr. Golde offered to pay his airfare and to put him up in the posh Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Moore accepted the free flights, though he declined the hotel room offer, preferring to stay with relatives. But Dr. Golde's generosity aroused his suspicions. "I asked Dr. Golde several times if there was any commercial value to the material they were taking from me," he says, "and I was told no." (Dr. Golde declines to discuss the case, but his lawyer denies Moore's assertions.)
Still suspicious in September 1981, Moore refused to sign a paper giving the university further rights to his blood cells. Pleas by Dr. Golde that he change his mind only fueled Moore's suspicions, and in April 1984 he hired Beverly Hills attorney Sanford Gage to investigate the case. Gage discovered that Dr. Golde had been granted a patent on Moore's cell line the previous month and that the doctor and the university had signed contracts with the Genetics Institute and Sandoz Inc., the international drug firm, for worldwide distribution of future products of the line. Shocked and angered, Moore authorized Gage to file a lawsuit against the Regents of the University of California, UCLA Medical Center, Dr. Golde and Quan, asking the Los Angeles Superior Court to grant him a share of whatever profits his cells may generate. "They're taking something that doesn't belong to them, which is of value, and they're not disclosing that value to the patient," Gage charges. "If John Moore wanted to make his cell line available to other researchers—to the world—he could not. He would be infringing on their patent on his cell line."
University of California officials have radically different views on the issue. "The university's position is that the research was conducted upon a specimen of his therapeutically removed, diseased spleen," says Allen Wagner, the university's lawyer. "John Moore came to where he knew the most current research was being conducted. Can he now say, 'If you want to do any research after me, I want to control it when it applies to anyone else'? Moore wants the property rights to his cells—the rights to exclude others from using or enjoying the benefit of them."
When the case comes to trial, it seems certain to raise some very sticky questions of medicine and law. But for Moore, it is much more personal. "I trusted my doctor like you'd trust your clergyman or your mother," he contends. "I feel cheated. It's like science fiction. Patients have some rights too."