Thursday, October 27, 2005

Stem Cell IP Slated for More Critical Look

California's newspaper editors were less than enthralled about a hearing this week into how the state is going to reap the benefits of its $6 billion investment in stem cell research.

If the usual Web searches are to be believed, no state newspaper – or any others, for that matter – dipped into Tuesday's hearing by the stem cell agency on the intellectual property that might result from its grants. Not one story has appeared.

However, we may see some IP stories in the future, perhaps as early as next Tuesday, the day following the hearing by Sen. Deborah Ortiz on the same subject. That hearing will be in San Francisco. It is a good bet that the Chronicle will cover it, given that stem cells are pretty much a home town story for the newspaper.

Ortiz' line-up for the session also offers more novelty. CIRM's agenda for its hearing appeared to be pretty much the same stuff, a presentation involving August's report from the California Council on Science and Technology. Plus she has a vehicle – SCA13 -- for implementing new IP requirements concerning the stem cell agency.

According to a draft of the agenda, one of the witnesses scheduled to appear is Jennifer Washburn, author of "University Inc.," who is likely to take a skeptical view of the existing IP world involving university research and private collaboration.

For example, she said in an interview with UTWatch (University of Texas group), "Putting so much emphasis on patenting and licensing, as the Bayh-Dole Act did, may actually be detrimental because universities may be imposing proprietary restrictions on research that would be more broadly used if it was transferred through the public domain."

She also wrote the following in American Prospect:

"Universities’ loyalties are now so conflicted that schools are increasingly willing to cave in to narrow commercial demands rather than defend their own professors’ academic freedom or the public interest. When researchers at the University of Utah discovered an important human gene responsible for hereditary breast cancer, for example, they didn’t make it freely available to other scientists, even though we -- the U.S. taxpayers -- paid $4.6 million to finance the research. The university raced to patent it, then granted the monopoly rights to Myriad Genetics Inc., a startup company founded by a University of Utah professor, which proceeded to hoard the gene and prevent other academic scientists from using it.

"Professors, too, are increasingly driven by the bottom line. More and more, they not only accept industry grants to support their research but also hold stock in or have other financial ties to the companies funding them. Many experts fear this skewing of professors’ research toward short-term commercial goals will impede long-term scientific and technological innovation. Financial entanglements between researchers and corporations have grown so common that the Securities and Exchange Commission has investigated numerous academic researchers suspected of engaging in insider trading."

Scheduled to represent CIRM is Ed Penhoet, vice chairman of the agency and co-founder of Chiron, the folks who are bringing us the flu vaccine this fall. A former academician at UC Berkeley, he knows whereof he speaks on IP issues.
Also slated to testify is Labeeb Abboud, general counsel for the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, which Ortiz has cited as possibly something to emulate with stem cell research.

For more on stem cell IP issues, see "Soothing Anxieties," and "Higher Risk." See the item below for a copy of the draft agenda for Ortiz' hearing

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