Judge Allows Henrietta Lacks’ Family To Continue Legal Action Against Ultragenyx

In what has been labeled a historic decision, a federal judge has granted the family of Henrietta Lacks permission to proceed with their lawsuit against pharmaceutical company Ultragenyx. They seek compensation for the revolutionary HeLa cells derived from Lacks’ body.

Confirmed on Monday, the decision denied Ultragenyx’s attempt to have the lawsuit dismissed, according to The Baltimore Banner. Chris Ayers, an attorney representing the Lacks family, underscored the significance of this milestone, stating, “To be able to represent the family and be able to move forward and in litigation against companies that continue to profit off of Henrietta Lacks is incredibly important, and a milestone.”

As previously covered by BLACK ENTERPRISE, the Lacks family initiated legal action against the pharmaceutical industry, alleging that Lacks’ cells were taken without her consent during her cervical cancer treatment at Johns Hopkins in 1951. These cells, successfully cloned, went on to catalyze groundbreaking advancements in the medical and pharmaceutical realms, contributing to the development of vaccines and treatments for formidable illnesses such as AIDS and even COVID-19.

The Baltimore Banner noted that Ultragenyx is the second company the family has pursued legal action against for profiting from the cells. In 2023, the family celebrated a historic triumph after reaching a settlement on July 31 with biotech company Thermo Fisher Scientific, which had been employing Lacks’ immortal “HeLa cells,” which BE mentioned are still being used for medical research today.

“This is really the first step of holding the scientific community accountable for its continued misuse of Mrs. Lacks’ cells and perpetuating business conduct that occurred over 70 years ago,” Ayers said.

The family enlisted the formidable legal prowess of renowned civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who forged a partnership with lawyer Christopher Seeger, investigating a potential 100 defendants implicated in the unauthorized utilization of Lacks’ cells.

“The family of Henrietta Lacks is grateful for the judge’s important decision to deny Ultragenyx’s baseless motion to dismiss the case and allow the lawsuit to proceed. This historic ruling is not only a victory for Henrietta Lacks’ family; it presents an opportunity to correct a monumental wrong,” attorneys Crump and Seeger said in a statement, according to CBS News.

The lawyers welcome Big Pharma to step “to the table” to resolve the matter on behalf of the Lacks family.

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