Ms. Lacks’s descendants have expressed pride in what her cells have gone on to achieve, but also fury over how she was treated by doctors. That fury has only been compounded by the commercialization of her cells.
Dr. Gey, who studied Ms. Lacks’s tissue, did not profit off his research. But over the decades, biotech companies have commercialized the cells and sold them even as Ms. Lacks’s family never received any compensation.
“Fortunes have been made,” Dr. Tedros said on Wednesday. “Science has advanced. Nobel Prizes have been won and most importantly, many lives have been saved.”
“No doubt Henrietta would have been pleased that her suffering has saved others,” he continued. “But the end doesn’t justify the means.”
On Oct. 4, her descendants sued Thermo Fisher Scientific, a biotechnology company that they accused “of making a conscious choice to sell and mass produce the living tissue of Henrietta Lacks,” according to the federal lawsuit.
The family said it was demanding that Thermo Fisher pay $9.9 million and “disgorge the full amount of its net profits obtained by commercializing the HeLa cell line” to Ms. Lacks’s estate.
During a news conference, Christopher Seeger, a lawyer for the family, suggested that more biotech companies could be sued.