The MacArthur Foundation today announced its 2022 fellows, the 25 recipients of what are unofficially called “genius grants” —$800,000 prizes paid quarterly over five years, with no strings attached. The winners work in across a huge range of disciplines, from artists to attorneys and musicians to mathematicians. They include a sociologist who studies the forces that drive gun ownership, a demographer who is “building the most extensive database of population statistics in the world,” and an “astrodynamicist” working on managing traffic in space (did you know there are now almost 30,0000 human-made objects orbiting Earth?).
Among the winners is Priti Krishtel, a 44-year-old health justice lawyer who is working to reform the patent system with the goal of making medications more affordable and accessible globally. Krishtel founded the Initiative for Medicines, Access, and Knowledge (I-MAK) and is a critic of the ways that pharmaceutical companies use — or game — the patent system to extend their monopolies and delay lower-cost versions of their biggest moneymaking drugs.
“I-MAK has successfully contested patents worldwide, saving governments billions of dollars in public health spending and giving millions of people access to life-saving treatments,” the MacArthur Foundation says on its website, adding that the group publishes a series of reports detailing how drugmakers exploit the U.S. patent system.
“Patents are supposed to be a time-limited monopoly. They’re supposed to be a reward for invention,” Krishtel says in a video on the foundation site. “When we don’t have competition in the market, drug prices explode out of control. And the consequence for our health system, for patients, for families who are waiting for life-saving or life-maintaining medication, it’s personal and it comes at a huge cost to human lives.”