Saturday, May 27, 2006

Uncertainty and the Ostensible Stem Cell Swag

How can California share the wealth from inventions created by California businesses that receive funding from the state's stem cell agency?

Ed Penhoet, a multimillionaire businessman and vice chair of CIRM, will offer some thoughts on the subject next Friday at a meeting of the agency's Oversight Committee.

Penhoet is chair of CIRM's Task Force on Intellectual Property, which has held two hearings in the past few months on the matter of splitting up the ostensible booty. Businesses, industry organizations, economic developers and nonprofit groups have testified. At least one more hearing is scheduled. Given the complex and difficult nature of the subject, that may not be enough.

Penhoet's role so far seems primarily as a facilitator. If he has specific approaches he favors strongly, they are not readily apparent, based on an examination of the transcripts. The closest he has come to staking out a position may be a comment in the April 27 meeting. He said that there should be a return to the state if the technology is successful. He also said it should be capped, which helps deal with businesses' uncertainty about the size of their ultimate payouts.

Uncertainty is one of the themes underlying the entire IP issue. No certainty exists, for example, that any CIRM-funded inventions will generate significant amounts of cash, despite grandiose assumptions by some. As Duane Roth, one of the newer members of the Oversight Committee and CEO of Alliance Pharmaceutical Corp., said, "100 percent of nothing is nothing."

At the April 27 meeting, Roth laid out a framework for any IP policy:
"What I think you're trying to do with intellectual property for start-up companies is create an environment where you can leverage financing and try to get people to invest in an idea, a dream. and they aren't going to do that unless they think, if they go through all this work and expense and risk, that there in the end is return. That's the first thing IP needs to do.

"The second is you want that IP to lead to products that actually get to people. and from our standpoint, you start these things, and that's what it's all about, getting products to patients. Taking good science and develop products and get them to the people that need them.

"The third consideration, and an important one, is royalty. If there is a contribution to the intellectual property that eventually leads to a product, which is a rare occasion, then there should be a sharing of the profits that are derived from that."
Roth's view was one of many expressed during the IP hearings. John M. Simpson, stem cell project director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights of Santa Monica, Ca., advocated state ownership of patents on CIRM-funded inventions by businesses, 25 percent royalties, low cost access to the therapies, patent pools and designation of the state attorney general as the enforcer of IP agreements. Simpson prepared a position paper for CIRM which said,
"Already some biotech executives have said the industry will decline CIRM money if the companies must share the rewards of Proposition 71 stem cell research grants with California taxpayers who put up $6 billion to finance the research. Too many biotech companies act like committed socialists when it comes to taxpayers and the government bearing the risk of drug development. But they are greedy capitalists when it's time to parcel out the profits."

"Ignore the bluff and blustering threats of picking up the Petri dishes and going home if they don't get their way. Any attempt to grab 'free money' without equitable public benefit requirements for biotech won't work. First-class companies understand that with the acceptance of taxpayer dollars comes the responsibility of public benefit. And with $3 billion on the table, there will be plenty of top-flight firms and researchers ready to play by fair rules like those outlined here to search for cures.
Julie Meier Wright, CEO of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., said 25 percent was unrealistic, suggesting other figures that were as low as one percent.
"Three billion dollars in California sounds like a lot of money, but it will be spread over ten years and over a broad array of investments for many worthwhile endeavors. so even if CIRM makes what for it would be a significant investment in a for-profit company developing new therapies, this investment will likely be a small percentage of the total investment required to bring these therapies to commercial success," she said.

"So if you assumed a $10 million investment, and I don't know what your threshold for investment is going to be, but a $10 million investment in a young company that ultimately requires $500 million before commercial success, CIRM's investment is 2 percent. So my question is how does a 2-percent investment warrant onerous royalties or IP requirements?"
She continued,
"The framework that you've developed for not-for-profit institutions was the 25-percent royalty payment would truly be a disincentive on the private side to attracting private capital. and I think most private investors would tell you that they don't expect more than 1- or 2-percent royalties on therapeutics and maybe 5 percent or so on medical devices. so you could have the unintended consequence of discouraging private sector investment with some things that would be very good, and it could prevent CIRM from really being a catalyst for the best ideas and the best science at a really critical time in the life cycle of a for-profit company."
She and others focused on indirect but unquantified benefits to California, such as enhancement of the biotech industry, which in turn will generate business and income taxes and lead to related economic growth. Again, projections filled with uncertainty.

Representing the biomedical industry was John Gollaher, president of the California Health Care Institute, who emphasized what business can bring to stem cell therapies.
"CIRM should discount any claim that stem cell science can benefit patient groups without aggressive participation of commercial companies. The fact is that we live in a market-based, market driven economy, and the theory that most commercial companies operate on is the theory of capitalism And the best distribution of goods and services happens through the active participation of the market and of commercial enterprise. and, again, any of us who spent significant time in academic institutions or within government institutions, I think, have a low level of confidence in the ability of those organizations to quickly move technology through the widest possible allocations for the greatest public benefit.

"Finally, CIRM should discount attempts to regulate commercial transactions in ways that discourage participation of the best companies and entrepreneurs. I think the concern that we've heard more than once is that the more strenuous conditions, royalties, caveats that are attached to technology transfer relationships, the more reluctant commercial participants are to capitalize on those relationships and those technologies. So I think from CHI's point of view, guiding principles for CIRM with respect to commercial IP policy should be, first, maximum acceleration of the best science. And whether that science as technology exists in a commercial company or in an academic institution, CIRM should be rigorous and thoughtful in making investments behind the best science. CIRM has collected an astonishingly good set of expert scientific reviewers, and the ability of CIRM to make intelligent judgments with respect to where the best science is and where funding opportunities lie, I think, is superb and should be applauded."
Joydeep Goswami, vice president, stem cell and regenerative medicine, Invitrogen Corp., Carlsbad, Ca., discussed motivations for companies to seek financial assistance from agencies such as CIRM. He said CIRM grants might back research that a company could not currently fund or research that "doesn't make economic sense to fund immediately."

In the case of his publicly traded company, Goswami said,
"There are some very serious conditions of the kinds of risk profile of investments we make and the research we conduct. So having public funds or government funds sometimes allows us to take on risk profiles and projects that the market would not, frankly, like us to take...but it could have rewards for the research community and others."

Allan Robins, vice president and chief technical officer of Novocell, an embryonic stem cell company in Irvine, Ca., spoke about his company's experience with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, an organization whose research funding program was viewed favorably by several of the IP Task Force members. Robins said the foundation's contracts are individually negotiated, which he recommended that CIRM emulate. He also said the foundation's contract with his firm did not require royalties. Rather it asked for repayment of three times of the total, depending on product sales. Robins also objected to Simpson's 25 percent royalty figure as too high.

Here are links to the full transcript of the April 27 hearing and the Power Point presentations by Simpson, Gollaher, Robins, Wright and Goswami. See "swag" and "greed" for discussion of the earlier meeting this spring. Closely related to the IP discussions is the strategic planning process now underway at CIRM. You can find more on that by clicking here. Sphere: Related Content


  1. A lot of the discussion at the April 27 meeting is merely recycled; see

    CIRM needs some innovative thinking on the intellectual property [IP] issue, not "same old, same old."

  2. Anonymous9:12 PM

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