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Saturday, June 25, 2022

WARF pursues rights to lines

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, a nonprofit foundation in charge of UW-Madison's patenting and licensing, was recognized by the National Institutes of Health Aug. 27 as one of 10 world sources of embryonic stem cells eligible for federal funding. 




Four of these entities are in the United States, two in India, two in Sweden, one in Israel and one in Australia. 




President Bush said federal funding would be given to stem-cell lines already in existence as of his Aug. 9 decision. NIH disclosed a total of 64 stem-cell lines that meet this criterion; WARF has patents on five.  




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'We're really excited about that because our cells will be the gold standard,' said Andrew Cohn, government and public affairs manager of WARF. 




The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees NIH, is led by former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson. 




A group of scientists led by UW-Madison developmental biologist James Thomson became the first to successfully isolate human embryonic stem cells in 1998. Scientists hope to grow these cells in laboratories to treat several human ailments, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. 




Since research on human stem cells was prohibited in federally funded labs during the Clinton administration, Thomson's work was funded by a California-based biopharmaceutical company, Geron Corp.  




'Two days after [Thomson] published his paper describing how he [isolated stem cells] in monkeys, [Geron] came to Madison and said, 'We want to fund you,'' Cohn said. 




Though the work was largely supported by Geron, the patent involving the technology and the use of the cells is held by WARF. WARF is currently involved in discussions with NIH to determine exactly what rights the patent gives the foundation. For example, one question is whether NIH has the right to require all other organizations selling stem cells to first obtain a license from WARF. 




'[The discussions] are just to decide the detail of the agreement we have [with NIH],' Cohn said. 




'Dr. Thomson has a contract with NIH to study monkey stem cells,' Cohn said. 'It would be very easy to expand that contract to include human [stem cells] ... and we have a bunch of other researchers that are in that same boat. It really positions UW to be in the forefront in getting some federal funding to study these cells very quickly.' 




Geron has the exclusive rights to commercialize treatments using six cell types obtained from WARF stem cells. 




WARF filed a lawsuit against the company Aug. 13 when Geron attempted to secure rights to 12 more cells types. 




'It is important that WARF continue to license additional stem-cell types to a wide variety of researchers,' said Carl Gulbrandsen, WARF's managing director, in a statement. 




'A greater number of good researchers promise to bring the medicine of tomorrow closer to today.' 




WiCell, a subsidiary of WARF, sells its stem cells to researchers for a one-time fee of $5,000, a cost that does not cover WARF's cost of maintaining and shipping the cells, Cohn said. 




Both Cohn and Renee Roccaforte, a public relations contact for Geron, refused to comment on the situation while litigation was underway. But according to an Aug. 16 joint press release, WARF and Geron 'expect to resolve the matter in the near future.'

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