Sunday, May 12, 2013

WARF hESC Patent Update: Seven Years and Challenge Still Underway

Last week UC Davis stem cell researcher Paul Knoepfler and Scripps researcher Jeanne Loring engaged in an online Q&A that touched on patents and how they can stifle research and discourage development of therapies.

Loring did not mention it in the Q&A but she is the key figure in the ongoing challenge to the WARF (Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation) patents on human embryonic stem cells. Her effort began in 2006 but has dropped out of the news. We asked her for an update on the case.

Here is the text of what she replied,
Dan Ravicher is the lawyer behind several big patent cases, including the recent Supreme Court case challenging human gene patenting (Myriad), and a challenge to Monsanto's restrictive enforcement of its patents on genetically modified seeds. 
“I'm lucky that he is also the lawyer working with John M. Simpson (of Consumer Watchdog) and me to challenge the WARF patents.  Currently, we are getting ready for another year of appeals and counter-appeals on the third of WARF's three patents that give them control over all human embryonic stem cells.
“This is Dan's summary of the current situation:
"'We filed challenges at the Patent Office to all three of WARF's hESC patents. During those challenges, WARF agreed to narrow all three of the patents, and they also loosened their licensing requirements. But, even though the patents were narrowed, we still think they're invalid, and thus disagree with the Patent Office's decision to re-issue them in the narrowed forms. Unfortunately, due to the age of the patents and changes in the law, we were only allowed to appeal one of the three decisions, and that appeal is now pending at the Court of Appeals in Washington. But, we expect the decision in our appeal will affect the validity of the other two patents, since they're all basically on the same technology." 
“The 'narrowing' of the patents has had an unexpected consequence.  Before the narrowing, WARF's patents would have covered iPSCs as well as hESCs. After the narrowing, they can only claim hESCs.”
In the Q&A on Knoepfler's blog, which also involved an interesting discussion of IPS research, Loring said,
Patents on fundamental things -- genes, human embryonic stem cells, iPS cells -- allow the patent holder to have a monopoly, preventing anyone else from using whatever they’ve patented.
Patents are supposed to stimulate investment in development.  Why, as Justice Scalia said last week, would anyone have the incentive to study a gene and, for example, develop diagnostic tests, if they couldn’t prevent everyone else from working on that gene?
But patents also stifle competition and the advances that come from having many different groups studying the genes or cells.  One of the main reasons I returned to academia was so I could have freedom to study human ES cells without worrying about getting threatening letters from a patent holder, demanding that I either stop working on the cells or pay a steep licensing fee.
There will inevitably be problems commercializing iPSC-based therapies and assays, because at least three institutions own patents on aspects of iPSCs.  I’m paying attention to the patent 'landscape,' but have decided to deal with those problems when they arise, and hope that the iPSC patent holders realize that the potential of these cells is too great to keep to themselves.  It would be better for all of us if the issue of stem cell patents never has to be decided in the Supreme Court.”

1 comment:

  1. Hi David,
    Another important issue not getting needed attention is the huge issue of iPS cell patents. A patent war is brewing there and I don't know why people won't talk about it. Here's my post today on it:


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