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Market valuation is determined by supply and demand. HeLa cells are substitutable goods in that if Henrietta asked for money for the cells, it would have been easy to find some other donor.

Also it's overly simplistic to say pharma companies are making "billions" off her cells. HeLa is a part of the workflow but far far far from the only part. Also value is in the work of scientists understanding the cell biology using her cells as a model, not some inherent value in the particular genome of HeLa.

> it would have been easy to find some other donor

If I recall correctly they had been trying to grow a cell line for years. Her cancer had a specificity that made it possible.

Supply, demand, negotiating power, and the legal property framework in place. Lack didn't sell her cells, they were seized from her.

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