Los Angeles Times business columnist Michael Hiltzik has just explored the situation thwarting noncommercial neural stem cell research because of patents controlled by StemCells Inc. of Palto Alto, CA. Sadly the scientific heavyweights who could resolve the issue with a simple telephone call are remaining mum.
I first shed light on the matter last month. Dave Jensen then described the dispute on his California Stem Cell Report blog, prompting interesting comments. Here's the deal: Philip H. Schwartz had been distributing neural stem cells he had derived from patients at at Children's Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) to academic researchers. Two years ago CHOC got a letter from StemCells Inc. saying the company controls patents covering the cell lines Schwartz had been deriving and distributing for noncommercial research at universities. CHOC's lawyers told Schwartz to stop providing cells for research until a licensing arrangement was negotiated with the company.
A particular irony in this is that StemCells Inc.'s Founders and Scientific Advisory Board are three of the biggest heavyweights in stem cell research in California. Or as Hiltzik puts it, "the company's founders include three leading academic stem cell scientists: Irving L. Weissman of Stanford University, David J. Anderson of Caltech and Fred Gage of Salk -- in whose very lab Schwartz developed his method."
None of the three responded to either Jensen's or Hiltzik's request for comment.
This is a situation that should have been settled easily in a month, if not a week. After a two-year stalemate the silence is deafening. I can't help but concluding that, yes, for this trio, $cience does matter.