Scientists can keep ownership of stem cell work;

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State institute amends policy

The San Diego Union-Tribune

DUARTE, CA — Scientists who make a patentable discovery with grant money from California’s fledgling stem cell institute will be able to retain ownership of that discovery under an interim policy approved yesterday by the committee overseeing the institute.

The institute’s policy governing the discoveries it funds, which are referred to as intellectual property, is similar to the federal policy that dictates how scientists and research institutes are to handle discoveries they make with funds from the National Institutes of Health.

But California’s policy departs from federal law by stressing that the results of all research conducted with stem cell institute funds should be shared as broadly as possible. It would allow scientists at nonprofit institutes around the world to try to build upon those discoveries without having to pay for them.

And, unlike the federal policy, it says the state should receive a portion of any money that a company pays a researcher or his organization to license a patent that results from California taxpayer-funded research.

Exactly where that money will be put ‘ perhaps in a nonprofit foundation that would make stem cell therapies available to people who can’t afford them ‘ is among the issues that will be worked out in coming months before a final policy is adopted.

It is an intricacy that taxpayer advocates will be watching closely.

“Taxpayers did not mean to write you a blank check,” John Simpson of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights told the oversight committee yesterday at its monthly meeting.

Simpson’s organization, other consumer advocates and elected state officials have been lobbying for the oversight committee to adopt a policy that would return at least a portion of the profits from any new therapies to the taxpayers. Some have argued for a program to make new therapies available to Californians who cannot afford them.

Many taxpayer advocates don’t like the federal research funding policy because it does not require that any of the money made from government-funded research to be returned to the government agency that issued the grant.

“California is setting a new model. So why is it looking to a flawed national model?” Simpson asked. “We can set a new standard for everyone else.”

The committee overseeing the stem cell institute, known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, has been working for months on developing an intellectual property policy. It has held numerous public hearings on the subject.

And the California Council on Science and Technology, an ad-hoc group of academics and professionals, researched the matter and said the institute should closely follow the federal intellectual property policy known as the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980.

Bayh-Dole was designed to encourage drug companies and venture capitalists to invest the millions of dollars needed to turn discoveries made at universities and research institutes into new drugs and therapies.

Although litigation has stopped the stem cell institute from actually distributing any money, institute President Zach Hall said the institute must have in place policies governing how the money is to be used.

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