BIOTECH: Key Embryonic Stem Cell Patent Rejected

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Local Researchers Applaud Decision

A key patent on how to grow human embryonic stem cells has been rejected by a federal agency, the latest twist in a complicated, years-long case.

Researchers in San Diego’s large biotech community say the decision could make it easier to turn laboratory discoveries into disease treatments.

Human embryonic stem cells are the ancestral cells that mature into nearly all the hundreds of cell types in the human body. Researchers think they could be used to grow replacement tissues to cure injuries or diseases, or to screen potential drugs before putting them into humans.

Embryonic stem cells are more malleable than so-called adult stem cells, which have a more limited transformative power. However, adult stem cells have been successfully used for years in therapies, while no such treatment has been approved for embryonic stem cells.

The April 28 decision by the U.S. Patent and Trade Office found that the patent was an obvious use of technology, and therefore not patentable. It reversed a 2008 decision that partially affirmed the patent and two other related ones.

Geron Corp., a Menlo Park company, had licensed the patent from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. Geron said in a statement that it was confident that WARF would continue to make a strong case for the patent in further proceedings. The patent number is 7,029,913.

Geron’s chief patent counsel, David J. Earp, said in a statement last week that the decision was not a final rejection, and that Geron has other patent claims beyond the WARF patents, which begin expiring in 2015.

The decision is good news for medical researchers, especially in California, said Jeanne Loring, a prominent stem cell researcher at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla. If the decision stands, researchers won’t have to get permission or pay royalties to commercialize their research.

Loring has challenged the patent along with two consumer groups; Consumer Watchdog and the Public Patent Foundation.

California’s $3 billion state-funded stem cell program, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, will also benefit, Loring said.

“Eventually, they were going to come up head to head with WARF,” on patent issues, she said. The institute declined to comment on the patent decision.

The decision was probably the correct one, said Evan Snyder, who heads the stem cell research program at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in La Jolla.

“I think if anything, it will free up the ability of more investigators to get into the game,” Snyder said.

Contact staff writer Bradley J. Fikes at 760-739-6641 or [email protected]

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