New stem cell patent action filed

A patent controlling use of human embryonic stem cells should be struck down, two consumer groups said in a legal appeal filed Tuesday.

Promising therapies developed with these cells will be delayed from reaching patients if the patent remains intact, say researchers, including Jeanne Loring of The Scripps Research Institute and Gene Yeo of UC San Diego.

The appeal was filed by Consumer Watchdog, based in Santa Monica, and the New York-based Public Patent Foundation, with the U.S. Court of Appeals. The groups said the U.S. Patent and Trade Office incorrectly upheld a patent awarded to the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

WARFs use of what is called the 913 patent, has put a severe burden on taxpayer-funded research in the State of California, the appeal stated. The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine funds embryonic and nonembryonic stem cell research with $3 billion from state bonds.

CIRM's president, Dr. Alan Trounson, did not directly say whether the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine supported or opposed the new filing.

"We don't want to do anything that gets in the way of finding treatments for some of the biggest killers today, so we feel that all patients with all kinds of diseases deserve to have access to these kinds of cells," Trounson said.

Yeo said the foundation permits basic research with embryonic stem cells, but warns scientists that any products resulting from that research requires a license. This warning scares away potential corporate partners.

Last months Supreme Court decision invalidating gene patents held by Myriad Genetics makes the case especially timely, the groups said in their brief. Human embryonic stem cells are a product of nature like genes, and so cannot be patented, they say. In addition, isolating those cells is an obvious extension of their discovery in other animals. The Public Patent Foundation and the ACLU represented those challenging Myriad's patents.

The case began in 2006, when stem cell scientists joined the two groups in challenging the WARF patent and two others. The other two have been dropped from the litigation. Loring took part in the original challenge and continues to advise the groups. The 913 patent is the most troublesome, because of its broad scope, Loring said.

The foundation said it was properly protecting breakthrough research from the University of Wisconsin at Madison by James Thomson. In 1998, Thomson was the first to isolate and culture human embryonic stem cells, which had previously been found in other animals.

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New stem cell patent action filed

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