Federal Judge Greenlights Henrietta Lacks’ Family To Pursue Lawsuit Against Ultragenyx

In a landmark ruling, a federal judge has granted the family of Henrietta Lacks the right to continue their lawsuit against the pharmaceutical company Ultragenyx. This historic decision, confirmed on Monday, denies Ultragenyx’s request to dismiss the lawsuit, paving the way for the Lacks family to seek compensation for the revolutionary HeLa cells derived from Henrietta Lacks’ body, per The Baltimore Banner. 

Chris Ayers, an attorney representing the Lacks family, emphasized the importance of this ruling: “To be able to represent the family and move forward in litigation against companies that continue to profit off of Henrietta Lacks is incredibly important and a milestone.”

The lawsuit stems from allegations that Lacks’ cells were taken without her consent during her cervical cancer treatment at Johns Hopkins in 1951. These cells, which were successfully cloned, have since been instrumental in numerous medical and pharmaceutical breakthroughs, including the development of vaccines and treatments for diseases such as AIDS and COVID-19.

“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. 

Ultragenyx is the second company the Lacks family has pursued legal action against for profiting from the HeLa cells. In 2023, the family reached a historic settlement with biotech company Thermo Fisher Scientific, which had also been using Lacks’ immortal cells. The family’s legal efforts are supported by renowned civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump and lawyer Christopher Seeger, who are investigating up to 100 potential defendants implicated in the unauthorized use of Lacks’ cells.

Benjamin Crump and Christopher Seeger have called on the pharmaceutical industry to step forward and resolve the matter in favor of the Lacks family. “We welcome Big Pharma to the table to address this issue and ensure justice for Henrietta Lacks’ family,” they stated.

Crump and Seeger added: “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.” 

Henrietta Lacks’ cells, known as HeLa cells, have played a crucial role in countless scientific advancements. Despite their significant contributions, the Lacks family has long sought recognition and compensation for the unauthorized use of her genetic material.

This ruling represents a major victory in their ongoing fight for justice and acknowledgment of Henrietta Lacks’ enduring legacy in medical research.

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